Every parent has times when they wish they knew what was on their child’s mind. Whether you are parenting a toddler who has gone inside himself, a preschooler who is acting unhappy but saying nothing, or a tween or teen who says nobody understands, here are 3 easy ways to encourage your child to open up.
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“Why won’t my child listen!” Mary sighs.
She is worried her daughter is getting caught up in the wrong company. The thing is, our children can’t hear our concerns until they feel heard.
“But she won’t tell me what’s going on!” Mary counteracts. “How do I get her to open up?”
If it feels like your words are falling on deaf ears, this blog post is for you. The first thing is, if your child isn’t open to hearing your concerns, don’t try to insist your child listens.
Instead, ask yourself: “What can I do to build a sense of trust?”
In every situation, our brains are scanning to establish whether or not it is safe to trust.
This matters because a child is not going to open up and share what’s going on for them unless they feel a sense of trust. If a relationship feels in any way conflictual, a child will draw back and protect themselves, or go into “fight” mode.
So if there is any situation with your child that’s making you worried and you want to encourage your child to open up, rather than trying to “make your child listen” turn your attention to:
“How do I build my child’s sense of trust so they will open up and share?”
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Top Tips to Encourage Your Child to Open Up
Here are three easy ways to encourage your child to open up:
#1. Cross the Bridge
Stop focusing on your opinions and your agenda. Rather, mentally reposition yourself in the world of your child, so you can gain a sense of how life is from your child’s point of view. What this means is that you will begin to understand your child’s perspective. Then you will be able to respond to your child‘s needs.
Imagine your child being in a different land, on the other side of the river. To understand their world and their experience, you need to cross the bridge and focus on their experience. When your child senses you are genuinely listening without judging, or without becoming overwhelmed with your own anxiety or frustration, they will be much more likely to share what’s on their heart.
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#2. Park Your Own Agenda
The thing is, to cross the bridge you have to first park your own agenda, your own busy-ness and strong emotions. You can’t cross the bridge without stepping out of your own paradigm.
Let go your own criticisms and your own judgements. Park your own thoughts of what should or shouldn’t happen. This matters because you can’t connect with your child’s experience if you are focused on life on your side of the bridge.
For more about this, see my blog “Five Useful Tips On How to Support Your Upset Child”
#3. Mirror Your Child’s Experience
Focus on what your child is saying, and reflect your child’s experience. Let your voice and energy, your face and body language be in rapport with your child. Stay present. Your child will sense when you’re genuinely seeking to connect with their experience.
There are other benefits to this too. When you cross the bridge into your child’s world by mirroring your child’s experience, you develop your awareness of your child’s perspective. You give them the opportunity to “hear themselves think”, which makes them clearer of their perspective and choices. It can even give them the space to rethink the situation – even if they are not ready to share that with you.
You not only build the trust between you and your child – you also develop your child’s budding sense of self, helping them to think about who they are and who they choose to be.
Your child will sense when you are seeking to connect with how life is in their world. And that builds a foundation of trust in the relationship for you to be able to hear and understand each other.
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Assess and Reflect
So now it’s over to you. Think about the last encounter you had with your child. Whether that was a comfortable encounter or not, shift your focus from what your child did or didn’t do and rather ask yourself:
- Did I cross the bridge?
- Did I park my own agenda?
- Did I mirror my child’s experience?
It’s helpful to reflect on the good times, not just the hiccups, because when we notice what’s working we know how to get more of what we desire in our parenting interactions.
These are three easy ways to encourage your child to open up. As easy as doing a figure of eight in ice-skating – that is, it’s very easy if you know how and you have had the practice.
Parenting, like any other skill, is easier when you have someone to guide you into learning new and better ways of doing what you desire to do.
I offer one-to-one online parent coaching. Contact me if you want the space to reflect on what’s working in your parenting, what’s not, and how to figure out a way to create the calmer, happier family interactions you desire.
As one client put it, “working with Val as my parent coach is my opportunity to press my ‘recalibrate’ button!”
This three points in this blog are based on an excerpt from “Cross The Bridge” section of Baby and Toddler On Board – Mindful Parenting When a New Baby Joins the Family by Val Mullally.
How do you encourage your child to open up and talk to you? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!