Safe Enough to Talk
By Sarah Lyons
Communicating can be a challenge in any relationship. It is certainly challenging with our kids. It’s hard to get them talking, especially when it comes to difficult topics. Every parent wants a healthy and open relationship with their children. How can you foster a relationship that encourages your children to share the ups and downs of their daily life?
Ask specific questions
When your child comes home from school and you ask “How was your day?” you may get the quick answer “Fine” and nothing else. Try asking specific questions like “How did the math test go?” or “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” Listen to your child and ask follow-up questions, when possible. Roe Hunter, marriage and family counselor at Lifeworks Counseling in Madison, MS says “I suggest that you ask a question like “How are you feeling today?” and then wait patiently. Allow for silence to feel uncomfortable. If the child is quietly thinking, wait some more”. Giving kids the time to speak when they are ready is key.
Show interest in what they love
“It is important to be aware and actively listening to your children,” says Hunter. “Tune into their desires, needs, wants and interests. Ask engaging and curious questions about what interests them.” When you show your children that you are interested in what excites them, you are actually showing them you are interested in them as a person. We may not be thrilled by the latest toy craze, video game, or sports statistics but if we show kids we are interested in what they say and are really listening to them, it will make opening up about other, more difficult, topics easier in the future.
Be a safe place
Kids will start to share when they feel secure and comfortable. “In order to get a kid to open up regardless of age, you must embody safety,” says Hunter. “Safe people are Secure. Aware. Forgiving. Empathetic. (S.A.F.E.)” Everyone needs a place they can feel secure and safe to share what they are feeling without judgement or criticism. When a child shares something that surprises or upsets you, remain calm. Listen and talk through the situation and try to be understanding. Overreacting or anger will cause the child to shut down.
Build a relationship over time
Relationships don’t happen overnight, and building one will take time and trust. Parents begin building their relationships with kids from infancy. Your reactions to situations and relationships with others show your child how you will respond to them. Roe Hunter says “Getting kids to open up at any age can be challenging. When we model secure attachments not just with our children but with our spouse, friends, family members and God children take notice.” Establish a healthy relationship with your kids through your actions over time so that you become a safe and secure place when they need you.
As you try to continue the conversation with your kids remember to ask questions, show interest in what interests them, be patient and give them time. “Quiet kids seem to need a longer period of warming up,” says Hunter. “Give the message that this is okay.” Letting your children know you are available when they are ready to talk will help foster communication over time.
Sarah Lyons tries to be intentional about spending one-on-one time with each of her six children and giving them the opportunity to explore their own interests.
Qualities of a Safe Person
- People who are loving and have a good reputation for being loving over time.
- People you can watch and observe from an emotional distance and are gentle with you during the trust-earning phase.
- People who are willing to earn trust, rather than demand it.
- People who can accept imperfections in others.
- People who have grace for imperfections.
- People who have endured pain themselves, but are recovering or have recovered. They are empathetic to your pain.
- People who can speak the truth to you lovingly.
- People who bear good fruit in your life. (If you find you are becoming healthier and are encouraged to grow when you are around them.)
- People who are honest and can confront gently, with compassion.
- People who view relationships equally.
From “Safe People” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend