As a parent myself, it is tempting to try to fix everything for my kids. Many parents see their roles as striving to make their children’s lives as easy as possible, using their many years of experience as guides. To some extent, this is effective, but sometimes it backfires. Your way may not work or your child may not acquire enough setbacks to gain resiliency. The most important thing to remember is that your child isn’t you and will solve problems in a different way. This may be more or less effective than your way, but sometimes parents need to step back.
Ask open-ended questions
If your child looks upset or tells you about a problem, ask them questions about how they are feeling and about the situation. Ask them what they think they should do to solve the problem. Try to refrain from offering advice unless you are asked for it.
Validate your child’s feelings
Their feelings are real, even if you think they may be over-reacting to the situation. You can empathize by saying something like, “That sounds so frustrating!” without commenting otherwise.
Praise them for making efforts to solve problems
Use specific praise, like “I’m impressed that you went directly to your teacher to discuss what will be on the test.”
Be patient if they are slow to open up
If you see a sad face, but your child isn’t telling you what is wrong, be patient. Hang out together and wait. The times children are more willing to open up are while eating together, walking together, riding in the car together, and at bedtime.
Put away your phone
Your children know that you are only half listening when you have your phone in your hand. Give your children your full attention and expect them to do the same when you are talking to each other and at meal time.
Have family dinners
A device-free family dinner encourages all family members to talk about what is on their minds. Better yet, cook together also. Just a parent’s proximity encourages children to open up.
Do not discourage your child’s efforts
They may have different strategies than you for solving problems with friends or getting homework done, but give them a chance to make their own decisions. Sometimes their choices will work out, and even if they don’t, it is important to learn from mistakes.
Offer appropriate support
If you suspect drug use, depression, anxiety, or anything else that might require a professional, take action.
Work as a team with your partner
Parenting is always most effective when parents, step-parents, and partners are on the same page.
Show that you are listening by re-phrasing
When your child tells you something, you can repeat it or paraphrase it. Similarly, if you ask your child to do something and you think they aren’t listening, you can ask them to repeat it.
While you are trying new strategies to listen to your children, you can get a double reward by modeling for your children how to listen to you.
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success