Last time we looked at common “door slammers” that shut down communication with our kids. Maybe you even jotted down some of your responses to the sample situations.
If you’re like me, there probably wasn’t a whole lot left after you eliminated the door slammers! Most of us haven’t had great role models when it comes to listening.
So what can we say to keep the conversation going? How can we talk in a way that builds trust and keeps our kids coming back to us?
Keep it Simple
Sometimes less really is more! By keeping your response to a minimum, you leave plenty of space for your kids to talk. “Uh huh.” “Really?” “I see.” “Oh.” Kids (and many adults) often need time to just talk through their problems and feelings. Don’t rush in to fill the silence
We’ve all heard it before: most of our communication is non-verbal. So show you’re on their side through a hug, a pat on the back, ruffling their hair, or a shoulder rub. You can also use other non-verbal cues such as putting down the phone, turning toward them, getting down on their level, and looking into their eyes.
Invite more depth
These are simple phrases that let your kid know that you are really ready to listen. “Tell me more about that.” “I’m available after dinner if you want to talk about it.” “I can see this is really important to you.” “I’d love to hear what you think about that.” “That’s interesting.” “That was unexpected.” “Thanks for trusting me with this.
Name the feeling
This is a crucial key to your kids feeling understood. Acknowledging the emotion gives kids the ability to move through them, rather than getting stuck. “Wow, you sound really angry!” “Was that frustrating?” “You’re really sad about that, huh?” This not only builds connection, but also helps teach the skill of self-reflection.
Guess the hope
Underlying every action (even seemingly negative ones) is a positive hope. If you can connect with your kid’s hopes, you help them connect with their most important values and open up the way for them to find solutions. Some common hopes are being treated with respect, being appreciated, feeling supported, being trusted, being loved, being free to express ourselves, making our own choices, having our own opinions and ideas, being able to trust others, having control over our own lives, and feeling like our lives have meaning.
Putting it into Practice
So what does this look like? Here’s a conversation I had with a 10 year old after school.
Me: Great to see you! Uh-oh, you look upset?
Kid: Yeah, I got in trouble at school.
M: Want to tell me about it? [Invitation]
K: Do I have to?
M: Of course not, but if you change your mind later, I’d love to hear about it. [Giving her the freedom to decide whether to talk about it both gives her control and shows I trust her]
Two days later:
K: Want to know why I got in trouble at school?
M: Only if you want to tell me. [Invitation]
K: Robert dared me to throw a rock at Kelly and I did. The teacher saw me, so I got in trouble.
M: Oh, I see. [Simple]
K: I just knew I was going to get in trouble. But Robert kept on daring me and daring me.
M: That sounds annoying. [Name the emotion] Were you wishing he would just leave you alone? [Guess the hope: being at peace/lack of conflict]
K: No, no. I just didn’t want him to think I was chicken.
M: Oh, you wanted him to see you weren’t afraid. [Guess the hope]
K: Yeah. But he knew he’d get caught, so he got me to do it instead.
M: Hmmm. [Simple]
K: Want to see a cool You-tube video?
I could see that my young friend was still processing the incident. I quelled my instinctive desire to point out to her that friends don’t try to get us into trouble, or that bowing to peer pressure isn’t such a great choice. Several times over the next few weeks, her parents and I did talk about what makes a good friend and how to make responsible choices when we feel pressured to do things we know are wrong. After about half a year, she decided, on her own, that Robert really wasn’t a true friend, and she asked him not to call her anymore.
As for my own unresolved angst over going away for my husband’s project weekend, I was able to think about my own emotions and hopes. I felt stressed about planning a trip with all my other responsibilities, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on travel just to do the same types of things I always do with SweetPea, and I wanted to relax with friends.
Had my husband heard these emotions and hopes when we were talking, our conversation would have been very connecting. Instead of feeling frustrated, I would have felt like he really got me and that he was on my side.
Fortunately, I was able to process all of this after our conversation. Once I sorted through my own thoughts and feelings, a plan came into place. I want back to my husband, told him my feelings and my hopes for the weekend, and asked him what he thought about my new plan. It meant a change of date, but he was happy to accommodate me. In the end, we both got what we needed out of the weekend.
Your turn: Are you as skeptical as I was when I first started replacing my door slammers with door openers? What concerns do you have about trying it out? Let us know in the comments.