By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges a parent faces after divorce is staying in good communication with your children. All parents struggle with communication issues as their children grow. However, children who have had their lives dramatically altered by separation or divorce need even more attention. Plus, diligent and consistent observation by their parents.
Children tend not to tell you when they are angry, resentful, confused, hurt or depressed. Instead, they reflect their problems through their behavior. Often they will act out. Other kids may regress or turn inward in ways that you have not experienced prior to the divorce.
Take time to see the world through your children’s eyes. You will be better able to meet their needs and understand their confusion or aggression. Then you can find appropriate ways to resolve tension and heal hurts through your conversation and caring behaviors.
Tips for more effective parent-child communication
Here are some tips that most professionals agree will encourage positive and productive communication between you and your children. Many of these are obvious or innate behaviors. However, others can easily be forgotten amid the challenges you are juggling in your own life on a daily basis.
· Be available and attentive when your child comes to you to talk or ask questions. That means turning off the TV, putting down the tablet, not answering the phone and giving them eye-contact and a welcoming smile. Sometimes attempting to talk to you takes considerable thought and risk on their part. Encourage these conversations when they happen.
· It is helpful to sit, kneel or in other ways get down closer to your child’s level when you talk. Towering over them is a form of intimidation that does not translate into safety or trust.
· Keep your conversations private unless they want to include others. Let them know they are safe in confiding to you. Reassure your child that you are interested and care about matters that concern them.
· Don’t dismiss a subject lightly if it is one bothering your child. Laughing, joking or teasing can create alienation. That can discourage your child to share what is bothering them with you. Creating mistrust is a dangerous road to travel, especially as your children develop into their teen years.
· Equally important is to never embarrass your children or put them on the spot in front of others. This will immediately close the door to honest, trustworthy communication.
· Avoid talking to your child when you are angry or upset with them or others. Promise to talk again at a specific time and place after you’ve had a chance to settle down and regain your objectivity.
· Be an active listener. Don’t interrupt while your child is talking. Listen carefully and then paraphrase back what you heard them say. Ask if you’re right in your interpretation. They’ll tell you. This give and take will help you more precisely understand what is really at issue.
· Asking why can be intimidating and close off your conversation. Instead ask what happened questions, which keep the dialogue open.
· Be patient. Don’t react or respond until you get the full message. Sometimes it takes some meandering for your child to reach the crucial point of what they want to say. Don’t shut them off too soon!
· Remember that lecturing, preaching, moralizing or “parenting” comments can put up barriers to clear communication. Listening is your most valuable skill and tool.
· Catch your judgments and put-downs, even when confronted with upsetting information. Don’t belittle your children, call them names or insult their behaviors. Talk to them – not at them! The difference is felt as respect.
· Acknowledge your children for coming to you. Praise their braveness. If you were at fault, apologize honestly and discuss how you can make changes for the future. Accept their apology as well.
· Show that you accept and love them – even if their behaviors were not acceptable. Then help them come up with some acceptable solutions they can understand and feel good about.
Healthy communication is the foundation for a happier future
Children who feel safe talking to their parents grow up as better communicators overall. They will be more likely to have healthy communication in their own adult relationships – with their spouses and children.
Some parents keep their feelings repressed and don’t usually discuss issues that come up. That sends the message that it’s not all right to talk about things that bother us. The consequences of this can be seen in our nightly news headlines every day.
You can open the doors to caring communication in your home by beginning today. Your children may be a little resistant at first as they test the waters. In time they will come to appreciate this opportunity once they know you are sincere. Start the process yourself – and see how valuable it is to “hear” what your children have to say!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — With Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© Rosalind Sedacca All rights reserved.