How many times have you tuned your young child out as she prattled on about how her best friend of the week now has a new best friend, or about who can throw the football the farthest? It’s easy to take these little moments of conversation for granted. After all, there are so many more important conversations going on about “grown up” things in the “real world” right? Not so fast, moms and dads. In a few years, you might find yourself begging for scraps of information from your growing child, who now resorts to one word answers when asked, “How was your day?”
As your child matures, there may be a natural tendency to pull away from her parents to assert her independence, so it’s important that you build a strong foundation of communication at an early age. Licensed clinical social worker Rachel Garrison says, “This is a challenging issue, but I think parents have to make talking to their children a priority in their busy lives. That’s my number one piece of advice–make it a priority to fully engage with your child daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes.” This foundation will help you maintain the bond with your child as she gets older, and the topics of conversation become deeper and more difficult.
Letting your child know she can trust you is crucial to developing and maintaining a healthy bond according to Licensed Professional Counselor, Johanna Rink. “As a counselor, I have encountered numerous adolescent clients that simply do not feel they can be open with their parents. These teens may want to talk to their mom or dad about certain things but they are in that stage where they may be embarrassed by some of the issues such as sexuality, gender identity, self-esteem, anxiety, etc.” Trust is built not only through words but also through consistent actions.
Here are some tips on how to keep the bond with your children going:
- Talk about your own day.
Garrison suggests sharing an overview of your day as an opportunity to connect with your child. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with your children about any challenges you may face. If something made you laugh or cry, open up and talk about how you dealt with the experiences in your day.
- Make the most of car time.
Don’t forget several times a day you have a “captive audience” with your children when you are in the car together. Use the time while running to and from school or practice, to ask open-ended questions and really talk with your child. Baton Rouge mom Jeanne Belleau says, “Some of my best conversations with my children take place during our commute. Having three children, it’s difficult to have that one-on-one time with each child, but when you’re in the car with just one, if you’re quiet, they will often open up to you.”
- Be careful how you communicate.
Be thoughtful in the way you communicate with your child on a daily basis. Always maintain a calm and positive tone. Rink says, “If a parent is always yelling, demanding, or belittling their child, that child is automatically going to shut down and won’t want to communicate her needs with her parents.”
- Create daily windows of opportunity for family time.
Set up windows of time throughout your day and week where you can give your children your undivided attention. The goal isn’t necessarily to have daily deep, probing, conversations, it is just to physically show them that you are “checked in.” Some families make it a rule to have dinner together daily, others may declare each Sunday, “Sunday Funday,” or take evening walks with all the members of your family, even the four-legged ones! It really doesn’t matter what the routine is, as long as you establish a few for your family that allow for all types of conversation.
- Put down the phone/computer.
Remember, you are constantly setting the example for your children. Whether it is in the car, or at the dinner table, put the phone or computer away. When your child has something to say, show her that she has your undivided attention. Garrison says, “Parents of pre-teens and teens should, ‘open your ears and close your mouth,’ which keeps communication lines open while respecting their developmental needs.” Rink says, “If you always appear to be preoccupied or busy with other things, your child may not want to interfere with that and may be less likely to approach you if she is having a problem.”
- Talk about your interests.
First and foremost, pay attention when your children talk about what interests them, whether it’s who their favorite YouTuber is, or what they saw on Musical.ly. Depending on age and maturity, talk about current events with your child. Share your thoughts and views about opinions about what’s going on in the world, and don’t be afraid to ask hers.
- Allow for freedom of expression within healthy boundaries.
It’s important to allow your children to express themselves freely without fear of being punished. Rink says, “Keep in mind, during adolescence they’re trying to figure out what their goals are in life, where they fit in with a social group, and trying to establish their identity so respect them as individuals by not undermining their opinions. Establish healthy boundaries, because that helps you set the tone and draws the line between being your child’s friend and being a parent who she can talk to openly.”
Riding along in the car with my son the other day, the words to Rob Thomas’s song, “Little Wonders” struck me, “Our lives are made, In these small hours, These little wonders, These twists and turns of fate; Time falls away, But these small hours, these small hours still remain.” Ultimately, the conversations and moments in life that we perceive to be the smallest, often become the things that matter most. What you do on a daily basis to maintain a healthy bond with your child will establish the foundation to let your child know that you’re there for her for a lifetime. ■