• Ben

Communicating with your children

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

Have you ever thought about how you talk and listen to your children; how you acknowledge your child’s feelings?

Allowing children to express their feelings does not mean that they're going to explode at every instant; they need to learn the healthy balance between expressing their feelings in the moment and learning how to contain them until an appropriate time. Getting the right balance is a key part of our emotional development.

A child who does not know how to manage and sometimes contain his feelings can be very challenging to handle; a child who never expresses emotion is flat. Too much control or too much emoting can both prove challenging in later life. A child who ends up stuffing his feelings becomes less tuned in to himself and communicating with him becomes difficult.

Here are some examples of phrases that encourage children to repress or stuff their feelings.

  • Stop crying now

  • Stop that horrible noise at once

  • There’s nothing the matter, why are you making such a fuss?

  • You’re overreacting as usual

  • It’s not such a big deal

  • You’re not hungry/cold/hot or you can’t be hungry/cold/hot

Things you can say that help your child identify and have their feelings are.

  • You look/sound furious

  • You seem really angry about that

  • That must have hurt

  • Are you sad about that?

  • What a happy feeling!

  • That really hurt your feelings, didn’t it?

  • Scraping your knee hurts a lot

How do you listen to your child?

Do you give them your child your full attention when you listen to her? This isn't always possible. If you can’t give them your attention, then be clear and let them know. Let them know when you will be available.

Some tips for active listening:-

  • Physically get down to their height

  • Maintain a level of eye contact

  • Be sensitive to their body language – if they are turning their head downwards or speaking very quietly, it may be that they are finding it difficult to talk. Don't force them to share if they're not ready.

  • Listen for the feeling words – “I was angry when Tommy took my train …”

  • Ask brief questions if you don’t understand what they mean

  • Empathise using sounds – often words aren’t necessary

  • Answer their questions clearly and succinctly

  • Be aware of when you try to 'fix' rather than help them resolve their own issues

What to do when you've been triggered?

Often, when we are interacting with our children, we can be triggered into an emotional place ourselves. Examples of triggers are 'You don't respect me', 'You don't trust me', 'You never do what I ask you to do', 'You're so disobedient', etc. When we've been triggered, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to respond from a level and adult place. Things are much more likely to escalate and become heated when we respond from a triggered place. Taking a few moments to breathe or giving yourself a change of scene can allow you to return to a calmer place before continuing.

Legs first, mouth second

Rather than shouting from a distant part of the house, ‘Turn off, it’s time for dinner!’. Try walking into the room where your child is watching TV, be with him for a moment or two and then, at a convenient moment, have him turn off the TV. Going to your child can help the child focus on the request. He knows you’re serious because you’ve made the effort to come to him. A shout from a distance is easily ignored.

Settle the listener first

Before giving your request, it's best to make sure your child is in a place where she can listen to what you have to say. Nothing sinks in when a child is seriously in their feelings or engaged in something else! If you’ve had a heated moment with your child, allow some time to for both of you to cool off before you talk. This may take some time! Children are often more receptive to your requests when the heat is off and the issue itself is no longer foreground. This could be several hours later or even the next day.

Empower your child to resolve their issues

Instead of giving instructions like ‘Don’t leave your bike out on the pavement, someone might take it’. Say ‘Where do you think would be a safe place to leave your bike?’. Leaving your child the freedom to connect actions with outcomes is more likely to create a lasting impact and empowers them to be self thinking people.

Give advance notice

This has worked wonders for me on many an occasion. Managing a departure or transition from one place to another or from one task to another is very helpful for children. They may have an expectation that what they are doing will be going on for some time. If a child is completely engrossed in completing a lego masterpiece, expecting him to drop everything and respond immediately is unrealistic. So, try giving advanced warnings, ‘We’ll be leaving in ten minutes so which part of your lego can you finish in the next five minutes’.

With younger ones, their understanding of time may be limited so look at what they’re doing and let them know what they have time for. E.g. ‘When you’ve finished the puzzle, we will be leaving to go to xyz’. When the time comes to leave, say ‘Would you like to say bye bye to …’. This helps them to manage the transition from one activity or place to another.

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