A big fear many parents grapple with is that they are the last to know if their tween is in trouble or is facing difficulties. After all, being your child’s protector is a role that comes with being a parent.
It’s a fact, too, that parents will find it tougher to get their tweens to confide in you as they grow older.
Says Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, “Usually, when the child gets older, they develop a sense of privacy, independence and individualism. This combination causes a [communication] gap between the parent and child, especially when there are many differences, lack of understanding, stricter parenting and control.”
As a result, junior prefer unburdening to their peers, especially since they’ll probably be going through the same issues and therefore, will better understand them as well, Koh adds.
That said, your communication issues will not be so bad if you’ve built a strong relationship with your kiddo. Koh suggests that it’ll help if you maintain the habit of discussing things with junior and the approach you take should be more understanding, accepting and compromising. So, how can you encourage your child to confide in you?
STEP #1: SPEND (MORE) TIME TOGETHER
Focus on the Family’s parenting expert, Sarah Chua, says making a point to spend quality time as a family on a regular basis gives you many opportunities to interact with your child. Chua suggests that your family:
* Have a meal together at least once a week.
* Go on a family vacation.
* Celebrate birthdays together.
* Play sports or indulge in other family activities during your weekends.
While you may send text messages to your child regularly, Chua stresses that this shouldn’t be your main method of interaction. Your child’s body language cannot be conveyed through text messages, so you won’t be able to know what is going on in their lives. Chua cautions, “The parent-child relationship is also likely to grow distant from a lack of face-to-face communication.”
By increasing the frequency of your interactions, you’ll have more opportunities to discuss things beyond the day-to-day. “When you spend time having fun with your child, their defences come down and you’ll find greater ease starting conversations and discussing sensitive topics.” What’s more, you’ll both be creating memories to last a lifetime.
STEP #2: CHECK IF THIS IS A GOOD TIME TO TALK
If you know your child has had a stressful situation at school and he or she has just returned home, Chua notes it’s a good idea to give your child time and space to cool down before talking to them.
“When you spend time having fun with your child, their defences come down and you’ll find greater ease starting conversations and discussing sensitive topics.”
Koh says your child’s body language can offer invaluable clues on whether it’s a good time to have a one-on-one conversation. Look out for changes such as:
* Walking away, turning away or brushing you off when you try to touch them.
* Not making eye contact.
* Clenching their fists.
* Not having any facial expressions.
* Not answering nor responding to you.
These signs show that junior isn’t ready to talk, so let them calm down and process their thoughts first. Forcing your opinions at this stage only causes greater distress.
STEP #3: PRACTISE ACTIVE LISTENING
While it can be difficult to show restraint when offering advice to your kiddo, Chua says jumping in and giving unsolicited advice may make junior feel worse. “This denies the child’s emotions and children can end up feeling even worse when their feelings are not acknowledged or brushed aside.”
Hence you should make it a point to practise active listening. Chua says this can be done, so long as you remember A.R.C.
* Attention Listen completely by being fully present — both mentally and emotionally. Chua stresses that you shouldn’t multitask or look away. For instance, you shouldn’t be using your mobile phone while your child tries to talk to you. “Be aware of your body language and respond simply with “hmm…” or “uh-huh” to let your child know that you’re listening.”
* Reflection Acknowledge your child’s feelings, instead of trying to ask questions or give advice. Don’t question their feelings or belittle their emotions by saying things like: “You shouldn’t be feeling this way”. Chua points out that the emphasis should be placed on understanding your child’s feelings and their viewpoint instead of telling them what is right. “At the end of the conversation, repeat what your child told you, so they feel that you’ve heard and understand their feelings.”
If you feel yourself getting frustrated with junior, it’ll be wise to call for a time-out and take a break before continuing the conversation.
Chua says that the only questions you should ask your kiddo should be geared towards clarifying and understanding what your child has just said:
* What made you so upset?
* What do you wish your friends could have done differently?
* Do you want to do anything about this issue now?
* Do you need my help?
Remember, showing empathy to your young ’un is crucial for effective communication and building a strong parent-child relationship.
STEP #4: MIND HOW YOU REACT
It is important that you keep a level head and avoid getting consumed by your emotions every time you respond to what your child says. Koh cautions that it is important to avoid being distracted, forcing your ideas on your kids and reacting in a harsh or impulsive manner. If you are getting frustrated, take a break before continuing the conversation later.
Don’t underestimate the effects of your reaction on your child. Koh points out that some children choose not to confide in their parents, knowing that they may not understand or agree with him or her. Other kids may also think their parents may judge, scold or remove their privileges, he adds.
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