Life is full of a few big things interspersed with a million little things and it’s the million little things that I would like to be a part of.
As the parent of occasionally talkative but mostly taciturn children, it’s always a challenge to get them to communicate about their days. My biggest fear of them growing up is losing relevance in their life. In an ideal world, I would like for them to want to call me from whichever part of the world they are in, to generally chat about their day. To tell me what’s going on in their life and how they feel about it. To share, discuss and possibly even ask for my advice. But, it’s a hard ask. As currently, on most days, when I ask them, how their day was, the answer I typically get is “Fine.” If I’m lucky, it’s an “I had a good day.”
I’m not worried about the big events. I’m pretty sure that I will be updated on all the important things in life, the new girlfriend, the graduation, the new job, the promotion, the shifting of house and so on. But life is full of a few big things interspersed with a million little things and it’s the million little things that I would like to be a part of. And in order to achieve that, I need to work on my communication with them while they are growing up. So, what can I do?
Most children have specific times when they are most likely to share or talk. They usually like to talk as soon as they are back from school, while driving to someplace or even just before sleeping. Make a note of when your child seems to be at his chattiest and make it a point to be available. Keep your devices away and be fully present. Children know when you’re not listening or listening with half an ear. They will shut down. And you will have lost an opportunity that you were not even aware of.
Space for one-on-one
If you have more than one child, make sure you create one-on-one opportunities with each of your children. It’s hard to have deep and meaningful conversations when you are part of a larger group.
Start the conversation
Don’t wait for your child to initiate conversation. Most children will not come and say, “Mama/Papa, I need to talk to you about something.” By starting the conversation, you are showing an interest in their lives. Initially, they may give you monosyllabic answers but over a period of time, they will enjoy the act of conversing. Start by sharing your thoughts and observations rather than asking them a question. Instead of saying, “Why aren’t you friends with X anymore?” Say “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been spending as much time with X lately.”
Get to know their interests
Take the time to learn about your child’s interests, the books they like to read, the music they like listening to, the video games that they like to play and the TV shows they like to watch. Discuss their interests and why they like it. Occasionally listen, read, watch and play with them. Share your current interests and your childhood hobbies with them.
When they do start to talk, pay attention to the details. If they tell you about their day and say that they finished reading their book. A question like, “when did you find the time?” might elicit the response, “during break time”. “But, aren’t you supposed to be playing outside?” “Yes, but I had a fight with X and I didn’t want to be around him just then.” Ask for details. The answers to questions with when, where and with whom often give you a bigger and clearer picture of your child’s life.
Ask the right questions
Ask open-ended questions that generate more than a monosyllabic response. Instead of asking “How was your day?” ask them “What was your favourite part of the day?” “Which part of your day would you have liked to have changed and why?”Asking open-ended questions encourages them to think about and share their day as part of a discussion rather than an exchange of information.
Share your experiences to give advice
Sometimes, advice is better received if they know that you have been in the same boat too. By acknowledging that times are different and sharing what you had done in a similar situation, you give your child space to reflect on your advice without being compelled to take it. Walk the talk. Guidance and advice is only effective if the recipient sees you do the same. The age old adage of ‘practice what you preach’ holds good at every point in your communication.
Talk about yourself
Communication isn’t a one-way street. By talking to them about your day and your feelings, you are encouraging them to share their day and emotions too.
As they get older, there will be disagreements. Listen to what they are saying. Don’t immediately react with your opinion. Let them complete their point of view before you put forth yours. If you have a contradictory opinion, start with “You may disagree, but here’s what I think…” Be respectful of their opinion if you want them to be respectful of yours. Don’t raise your voice. Stay calm while having the discussion or postpone the discussion until you can talk about the issue at hand without losing your temper.
Avoid comparisons and personal attacks
If you are constantly telling your child, that X works harder or plays better or even seems to make friends more easily than him, it will affect his self-esteem. If there are aspects that you would like your child to work on, address the issue by communicating concern rather than putting him down. “I feel that your grades have slipped this last term. What do you think the problem is? What can we do to help bring them back up to where they should be?”
Don’t forget to be yourself
Have fun and enjoy the conversations with your children. Show your child that you have a sense of humour. Don’t be preachy and get into lecture mode. Not every conversation needs to be a teaching point.
While every child is different and each parent-child relationship brings its own set of challenges, keeping the above guidelines in mind while communicating with your child will go a long way towards building an honest and meaningful relationship with your child.