Here are few truths:
Kids wants their Parents to take charge. Does not matter if you are a young Parent or an elder Parent. Don’t mince words, say what you need to say in the spirit of growth – theirs, love for their success and attention to acceptance.
Mincing words is just annoying, really to anyone but especially to your children – of any age. Here is the hierarchy:
You and your Partner
Friends or Friends and the Extended Family – depending on how Extended Family is working out
You think one or more of your children is struggling with something. Likely you know or have a clue as to what they may be tackling or grappling with. Incorporate your conversation on the possible subject as part of every day conversation. Few things are worse for just about everyone then the well used – ‘We have to talk’ – or any variation therein.
Other shut the door on discussion starters are:
‘Honey you seem worried’
‘Is there anything wrong’
‘Is there something you want to talk about’
‘How is everything going’
Uggg on all of the above
Here is a starter that will work or at least keep the emotional barometer to a lower point and allow for entry and chatting:
You know your child – you know when there are changes in patterns – you know their routine and as the Parent with a good amount of life experience, you probably have a really good idea of what might be going on. You’re with your child, you see how they interact, you see their interests and you follow them like a hawk, because that is your job and you take it seriously. But when it comes to tackling stuff, you are diminished to feeling intimidated, scared and unsure. All very natural feelings – no one wants to deal with stuff and/or be dismissed by their child because of ‘interference’. But here’s what you need to hold on to – your child feels what you feel only multi fold. They have no life experience where their concerns exist, otherwise they would have figured it out. They want to know what their options are and they want your guidance. Resistance to talking to you is not a matter of disinterest, it is a matter of embarrassment, so don’t make it embarrassing, don’t make it a ‘big deal’, don’t importantize yourself to the point you are an intimidation to your child’s right to go to you or rather you go to them to break the ice.
Let’s go back just a bit. Back in the day, families spent communication time together, at the dinner table, in the backyard over a BBQ, picnics, driving to spots, definitely more time with less distractions than now. So where is your family? If you are just starting out with a young family then my biggest suggestion is you get back to basics. It does not require you ban all forms of current technology – this is not a pendulum swing, it is a BALANCE and it is PRIORITIES. Root your child. Family first. At the dinner table is where talk starts and is initiated. Everyone gets a chance and everyone should share the stories of the day. Parents should ask questions then. It sounds like this:
Go around the table, everyone – INCLUDING the PARENTS – talk about their day. No child wants to feel they are more important than their Parents because they are not. In fact, change it up on who starts first but over 50% of the time, Parents start first with their day. It’s fascinating for a child to listen and learn first hand on the success and challenges of their Parents. You want them to feel important, then include them in your stories, of course don’t overwhelm them or ask them for problem solving tips but let them watch you celebrate and let them watch you explain how you handled a situation they could understand. Show them you ponder, consider options and try to pick the best one for the situation at hand.
Think one of the children is having a tough time with something? Here’s an opener:
‘Who had a tough day? What happened? How did you deal with it? How did the solution work out? You have other options – what do you think one other option could have been’?
Family time is safe, driving is safe anything that doesn’t take a stand alone approach. Generally if there are others there and the child is not singled out things flow and your child will tell you when they’ve had enough. Respond respectfully but let them know you are the Parent and it’s your job to make sure they have the tools to meet life’s challenges.
Let the child talk. Listen for good strategies your child used – reinforce them and add to them. Talk about how the child has a number of options to handle situations. Let them get upset because that is very normal and very healthy. Don’t be afraid of your child’s emotions – that’s a really bad choice when your child is emoting. Rather, say this, ‘Sounds like this was pretty hurtful’, ‘sounds like you were frustrated and didn’t know how to reacte’, words that sound like you are either attempting to understand or actually do understand. You are the Parent, this is your job, you are going to do it well or not so well. It is not neutral.
You also want to try and close conversations on an encouraging or positive note – that does not sound like appeasement, it sounds like encouragement. It doesn’t mean you pat your child on the back and say ‘you’ll do better next time’ or ‘good job’ when such was not the case, it means you will say or send this message ‘listen, you made some good choices and some that require some tweaking. This may or may not resolve itself but we’ll revisit it in a few days or earlier if need be’.
Here is the other important part of connecting with your child on ‘issues’. We have all been there and they are not alone. One of the reasons children bolt from one on ones, it is just too much. They don’t want this amount of attention to what they realize is life experience. They may not know how to articulate that but they know they don’t want to be the center of attention, generally speaking. So you say to them – ‘Listen, this is an issue for a lot of children or people. It’s not fun but you’re not alone in dealing with it’. ‘We and you find options that are successful and make you feel like you did your best’.
Your child feels safe to bring things up, they are managed as life experiences. You look like the leader, not the care taker and you forage the path because you are the Leader. Children learn by modeling. Don’t be scared and your child will follow or rather Be scared, try not to show it, if you must then at least put in an addendum that says -‘ I’m the Parent, sometimes having to listen to your pain is really tough but it’s my job and so let’s go’. Anything close to the honest truth will work. In fact, your child will open up like a running river and you’ll likely find yourself saying this: ‘Honey, I love you, I know it’s my job to listen and be attentive and inspire a healthy happy kid but sometimes you talk too much, a break would be awesome’. That’s not denigrating, it’s the truth. Setting boundaries is about setting boundaries and instilling love. As long as your child knows you love them, you accept them and you are expecting the best from them, they’ll deliver to the best of their ability at the developmental stage they’re at.
Here are a few examples of how that sounds in various tougher challenges children face today:
Generally the smoking pressure from peers is going to start earlier than you think or let’s face it, want to believe. Here’s an approach: ‘Who was pressured with a cigarette today or at least introduced to a cigarette’? Don’t smoke – what’s in it for you? or Who’s tried a cigarette or watch one of their friends smoke? Don’t follow – what now? How do you think the best option for you is? Cause smoking is not one them.
Change smoking to drinking.
Start young – start general, in a group situation but present the general conversation. Respect is boundaries – Remember this and tell every daughter you have: ‘A young man’s morals are largely and generally dictated by the moral boundaries of the young girl they are with’ Girls set the boundaries, not guys largely and your daughter should know that. She takes the bull by the horns here, nothing less. Give her the tools to stay in control and ask questions because that’s your job.
Who’s struggling at school? Who’s not pleased with their performance level and feels they need to do better?
Those are direct questions – Said with the intention to help and assist, you will get a response. But most important, it shows leadership and it shows you are keeping growth and life lessons as part of a daily and not big a deal approach. Keep it normal and as contained as you can. As long as your child knows you are direct, not trying to please them, not making them more important than you, not afraid of their response because you are afraid they won’t like you, you’ll do just fine.
If you are using the excuse, they will tell me when they want to, you are the one that’s scared. And they sense your fear and they will act in turn. If your child has the courage or you demand they develop the courage to have to come to you if you know they are dealing with a challenge, then they have more courage than you do. Step up, with love, with options and with expectations your child can and will achieve a goal of success with what ever.
Here is another matter that needs to be visited:
What happens when you believe or think or have an inkling one of your children is gay? Here’s what you do and here’s what you say:
‘I have always hoped for a gay child, did I get lucky’? No response necessary right now, the excitement would be too much for me’. – Then let your child ponder the acceptance and safety to say something. Revisit it if you must but keep it open and keep it loving and keep it normal. Don’t make the mistake of identifying challenges as separate entities. Society is full of discrimination and inexplicable fears that lead to discrimination. Everyone has felt the hand of discrimination, it is just there. Avoid the temptation to define a group or a situation as discriminatory – discrimination happens, it needs to exposed. Don’t make your child be the one to have to take the step to ‘come out of the closet’ or any other root cellar. Don’t do it. You are the Parent, you accept your child is moving through life like you are and you do your job of being first to make it safe to talk and find options.
Talk about achievements, accomplishments, finding who does what and encouraging way to inspire growth.
Be a Modern Family Cam – Be a Celebrator