If You Want Your Child to Talk to You, Build Trust First

Posted: August 27, 2019

Talking to your child can have a variety of results.  

Your child may:
1. listen and want to continue the conversation. 
2. appear to listen and move on to the next thing without responding. 
3. not seem like he's listening, but he really is.
4. hear your tone of voice, determine it to be unforgiving, and turn away.
5. be too preoccupied to hear you. 
6. have an auditory processing deficit, which prevents her from getting the message.  
7. give you a quick answer to get you to move on.  

This isn't a comprehensive list, but maybe your saw a pattern that's typical of your child, and would like to explore ways to make the listening and speaking more effective. 

First, build trust.  If a child doesn't feel trust for you, she will likely be a number 2, 4, or 7.  She'll move on without a comment, turn away, or give a quick answer to get you to move on.  

How do you build trust?  Listen deeply, reflect what your child has said, and don't pass judgment. 

Listening deeply and reflecting what you hear looks like this:
Child: "I don't want the summer to end and I don't want to go back to school." 

You: "I hear you.  You want the summer to last forever so you don't have to think about school."  

This builds trust because it shows your child that you really got her message.  Her brain actually calms down when this happens, and she is much more likely to share her heart with you. 

Child: "I feel left out. The kids in my group from last year aren't talking to me." 

You: "You're feeling like the kids don't like you like they did last year, and that's lonely." 

Note that there's no fixing in these statements.  No solutions are offered, such as: "Well, you need an education and school is where you get it, so you'd better get your head in the game."  

Or, "Just do a better job of acting interested in your friends and they'll come around."  

These answers seem like what parents should say, but the issue with them is that neither of them creates trust.  Why? Because they signal to the child that you have the solution to their problem, and they leave the child out of it.  These are great big "I don't see you" responses that we hear every day.  

Trust comes from seeing your child clearly and accepting his or her state of mind in the present moment.  If you haven't done this before, it can sound odd or really difficult.  But if you want to build a bridge to your child, it can happen.  Free and open communication is what keeps you connected, helps you know where your child's issues lie, and allows you to be there when things are not ideal.  This is trust.  She'll see that you're not judging, that you really are interested in her life, and that she's receiving your respect.  Then she's free to seek you out when things are hard, not worried that your response will negate her own ability to think, or that you won't care enough to offer help if she asks for it.  

Parenting is so different from what we grew up with ... I hear this all the time.  It is quite different, and I think it also signals growth on the part of humans.  It used to be "Do as I say or else suffer the consequences," which simply doesn't get parents what they want in today's world.  So we've evolved to a new way - including the child in the conversation as a full participant in the relationship. This is not coddling the child, but rather recognizing him as a full human, capable of so much more than we previously thought.  

With every interaction, we are either pushing our child away or drawing him near.  I haven't come across a parent yet who was upset about being close to her child.  Closeness with a parent is vital to a healthy adulthood for our kids, and the more we recognize that, the better off we all are.  

If you'd like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching.  

Copyright © 2019 Center for the Challenging Child/Anu Family Services 


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