Last week I posted that I needed your help on a project and promised that this week I would share more of my notes. I was leading a short small group session on communicating with children and many of you weighed in with great comments and encouragement.
4 tips for Hearing what your kids have to say
1. Hugs & High fives or other forms affirmation
Physically affirming and appropriate touch is very important to express that you are a safe and will listen. Some children crave this kind of attention more than others and really receive love well through simple things like hugs, high fives, fist pounds, etc. This often works better at some ages than others as well.
I hug my daughter (4 year old) before and after every round of discipline and am always available for a hug. I want her to know that even though she has been disobedient that she has not removed herself from my love. (the other side of this is that she needs to know she is being disciplined for being disobedient. Being emotionally unavailable is not a good form of punishment… ie your children shouldn’t fear getting yelled at or pushed away because you are angry. But that’s a whole nother blog post.)
On the days that I get home before bed time I try and spend 30 minutes to an hour holding each one of my children. With my daughter (4 years old), she shares about here day and I share about mine and I read her a few books. With my son (4 months old) I feed him and hold him up smiling at him and tell him what he is doing (teaching him to communicate).
2. Eye contact & other physical cues to let them know you are listening
Put away distractions and look your child in the eye when they are talking. This may involve getting down on their level or picking them up to yours. This may also involve turning off the T.V., turning away from the computer and putting the phone down. Let your child know that they have your best attention when they speak.
Due to the nature of my job this is a little difficult to do. I answer the phone when people are in crisis and stay up long hours writing paper for my graduate classes or sermon notes. When I know I am busy I give my daughter 3 “tickets” that are anytime tickets for her to come see me. She can interrupt what I’m doing for any reason, but she needs a ticket. She usually burns the first two in a matter of minutes, but holds the last one until I’m through with my phone call or take a break from writing.
I also take her to McDonalds once a week for breakfast. She looks forward to this “date” all week long. I put away my phone and talk with her all morning about the stuff that is important in her life. If all else fails she has at least one hour of uninterrupted special “daddy time” each week where she has my undivided attention.
My Son (again 4 months) is a little less understanding, but I try and spend intentional time with him letting him explore my face with his hands and watching my mouth move as I talk. He needs to know he has my undivided attention.
3. Ask good questions
One great way to show that you are listening and value what your child is saying is to ask good questions. When your child is old enough to make choices about particular things ask them why they made that choice. We just signed my daughter up for dance a month ago and so she will be telling me dance… so I’ll ask her, “what was your favorite part about dance?” Notice that this isn’t a “yes,” “no,” “good,” or “bad” question. I didn’t ask, “so how was dance today?” I intentionally asked an open ended question designed to get her to share more about world.
4. Rephrase to make sure you know what they are saying.
Rephrasing helps your child to know you understand what they are saying. For example my daughter may say, “I have two dance teachers mrs. ___________ and _____________.” I will say back to her, “wow, so you have two dance teachers not just ______________, Mrs. _______________ is in there too?” In fact in my house if I don’t rephrase for my daughter she will carry on the conversation by rephrasing for me until she feels I have sufficiently gotten the message.
It can also be great to have your child tell you what you just told them. You might be surprised how many times they say, “yes, ma’am” or “sir” and they don’t know what you are talking about because you have used a word that is not their vocabulary. Often times when I do this with Rebekah I have her repeat the new word to me and I explain it to her until she can explain it to me.