If you are wondering how to connect with your recently non-communicative child then you are certainly not alone. At one time your kid might have rushed to your arms for reassurance and come to you exclusively for guidance. Then, all of a sudden, they are distant and dismissive. They tell you that they’re ‘fine’ when you are acutely aware that this is not the case. They answer ‘nothing’ when you ask what’s wrong or going on. You want to help - but how do you reach out without scaring them off?
The fact that you are here reading this article powerfully highlights that your intentions are on the right track. You would like to take conscious action to help yourself to connect with your kids. This mindset will be crucial going forwards. No matter what a child might do or say in times of heightened emotion, they all want to feel understood and supported by their parents and carers. While it might seem (and be) difficult, developing a deeper connection through conversations is the only way.
Here are the 5 tools and strategies that can help develop healthier conversations with your child (plus a few conversation starters at the tail of this article):
1) Create a distraction-free zone.
No one responds well to a conversation that is conducted amid an array of distractions. With the television blaring and multiple social media notifications lighting up our screens and faces, authentic communication is simply not an option. Put your smartphones in another room or into a ‘no-go’ basket for half an hour, and fully commit to a conversation together. It doesn’t even need to be about anything in particular - hearing each other without looking away to reply to a text will feel more satisfying than you might have ever predicted.
Put your smartphones in another room or into a ‘no-go’ basket for half an hour, and fully commit to a conversation together.
2) Give your child permission to speak freely.
The way we frame and set up a conversation with our kids is key to the potential success of it. Help things along by using open questions such as, ‘what did you think about that?’ and, ‘how did that make you feel while it was happening?’ in order to reach further into the experience they are describing. By avoiding ‘yes or no’ questions you will empower your child to share their emotions and honest thoughts without inhibiting them in any way. Use positive body language (such as nodding and facing them front on) to put your child at ease as they continue to talk with you. Small details really do make all the difference.
3) Listen without diving in to interrupt.
Your child might bring up a topic or an experience during your time chatting that strikes concern within you. Or you might hear of how they handled something and have a bright idea of how they could have done things better. It can be tempting to cut in with your thoughts and opinions, but doing so removes potential for deeper sharing and connection. Allow your kids room to explore their thoughts verbally. Hold back on offering advice before they are clearly ready to hear it. Ask them what they think they should do. You might learn more about their thinking than you expect. You are signalling true respect for the validity of your child’s perspectives by hearing them out in full.
4) Reflect, respond, repeat, reiterate.
If you constantly struggle to find the right words at certain times, then it might be the case that these moments require silent listening rather than speech. Communication should be based around great listening rather than just waiting for a turn to speak. As you hear out your child, take note in your mind of what they are sharing. Respond with open questions to encourage them to go into further depth. Repeat the key points that you have heard in a natural way in order to signal you have been listening. Then reiterate how much you appreciate what they have shared. This pattern will help you build a meaningful connection, as well as creating a habit of better communication between you both.
5) Make communication a healthy habit.
One great conversation is a milestone but what you are aiming for is a ritual of connection. Set conscious time aside to talk and converse together. It doesn’t have to fit a specific time-slot but you do need to ensure that regularity is a priority. Perhaps you could use the commute home from a weekend or after-school activity to talk together. Or you could head out to your favorite cafe or park each Saturday morning to spend some time in each other’s company. This would work particularly well for quieter children who struggle to be heard with their other siblings around. Use your intuition to work out what will work best for your family.
We all respond a little differently to life day-to-day. Our own emotions as adults naturally vary day-to-day. Our mood can fluctuate depending on external influential factors such as workload, relationship dynamics and even how rested our minds and bodies are. This is just as true for children - except in their particular case, they are still learning to understand and regulate their emotions. Tuning in to how our children feel will help us piece together what their needs really are day-to-day.
Generous patience is key to long-lasting connection.
Generous patience is key to long-lasting connection. Do not rush ahead with the process of developing healthier conversations with your kids. Embrace a gentler approach that allows plenty of room for growth and personal evolution. Some days might come easier to you both while others will seem more challenging -that’s okay. What is most important here, is that you are present and you are listening. From there, everything is possible.
It’s not easy to have the right conversations about wellbeing and mental health at the right time, but togetherAI can help make it a little more achievable.
Here's a few questions that will help you and your child get your next conversation started:
• How can you tell when someone in our family is feeling happy/sad/angry/stressed?
• What are 3 things that make you excited/mad/frustrated/nervous?
• What makes you proud of our family?
• What helps you feel better when you are sad?
• Do you have close friends who feel like family? Who are they?
• What should we do more of as a family?
• Did you have a chance to be kind to anyone today?