“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” ~ Catherine M. Wallace
Remember when your child was a toddler who asked question, after question, after question, talking non-stop every waking hour of the day and you wished more than anything you could get just a moment of silence?
When you’re a mom to a little one you know every aspect of their life; who their friends are, their favourite shows, the games they love to play, what they ate, when they slept. Then, those little ones grow up a bit and begin school. Suddenly there’s a whole seven or eight hour part of their day you don’t know about at all. But it’s still okay because your little chatterbox loves to share.
Then it happens. One day, she barges in from school, you ask how her day was and get the dreaded one-word response:
Motherhood is nothing if not ironic.
But all is not lost. The trick is to keep the lines of communication open now so when your school-aged kids become teens they’re more likely to talk to you and it’s not as hard as you think.
Literally, lower your body so you are below them. I discovered this by accident after a long day at work. I was on the kitchen floor petting my dog when my two teens walked in. Both of them stood, leaning on the countertop and low and behold, the conversation flowed. Since then I’ve made it a habit to cop a squat on the floor whenever we’re in a room together. Maybe it’s because I seem non-threatening when I’m on the floor, but for whatever reason, it works.
Listen Without Judgement
Your kids will tell you stories about their friends or things that happened at school which you might not necessarily like. It’s going to happen, I promise. At this point you have a choice, to bombard them with your opinions or to listen. Repeat this mantra to yourself: They are telling me this voluntarily. They are telling me this voluntarily.
This is not to say you are not allowed an opinion, but before you jump in offering advice, criticism, or condemnation, take a moment to ask to listen empathetically and ask questions. Kids are under a lot of pressure these days and knowing the can come to you offers a release valve.
Listen Without Losing Your Mind
In keeping with no judgement up above, it’s possible your child will tell you something that may cause you to lose your mind a little bit. For a school-aged kid, it could be failing an exam or not handing in an assignment in on time. For a teen, it may be that they tried drinking or vaping.
Our first instinct tends to be negative and yes, you will want to lose your mind. Temper that instinct for a few moments; listen empathetically, ask questions and keep an even tone to your voice.
Again, you are the parent and there are going to be consequences to their actions but when your child knows he can come to you without it turning into a scream-fest you are paving the way to a time when he’s older, finds himself in a bad situation and knows he can call you for help.
Understand When They Like to Talk
Have you ever walked through the door and been inundated with kids and questions? What’s for dinner, mom? Where were you? Did you pick up shampoo?
It’s irritating and invasive. Give your kids a little bit of space when they come home and learn when it is they like to open up. In our house, it’s after dinner. With me sitting on the floor, obviously.
Show an Interest In Their Interests
My older son and I have a deal. When we are driving together anyplace, he listens to my music on the way there, I listen to his music on the way back. This allowed me to get a feel for what he liked and gave us conversation starters. Also, who knew I’d like Post Malone?
Let Them Start
Sometimes the best strategy is to stay silent and let them begin the conversation.
Ask Your Kids Their Opinion. On Anything.
Once again, listen without judgement. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
As our kids get older they still need to know we love them but “Oh my gawd, mom. That’s so embarrassing.”
In our family, we came up with a secret hand signal so I can tell my boys I love them without anyone else in the world knowing what we’re doing. Kisses at the front door as they take off for school may be long gone but the hand signal is here to stay.