By Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist,
Healthy Learning Paths Instructor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Professionally, I talk to parents about the importance of communicating and actively listening with their children. However, there are moments I have to remind myself to do the very same thing with my children. Sometimes I move quickly during the day, making sure to complete my work responsibilities while getting all the chores competed. While these tasks are important, the first day of school served as a reminder for me about the importance of communication.
After the first day of school, I was thinking about 7 or 8 tasks I still had to complete before the day was done. However, my children came off the bus full of emotion and thought. They needed to talk with me. One child likes to talk while eating his after-school snack. My other child likes to wait until bedtime when we sit quietly in his room. I reminded myself, “Those tasks I have can wait; look at him, listen to him when he is ready to talk.” During snack, I heard about the new routine in 3rd grade, friends he played with at recess, and the PE schedule. At bedtime, I heard about 6th grade and new teachers, new routines, and new opportunities.
Reminding myself to pause, look and actively listen allowed me to learn about the classrooms and my children’s experiences. Listening helped continue to build the foundation for future communication about other topics, some more sensitive or related to personal decisions and safety. I know I can do those 7 or 8 tasks after communicating with my children. If they tell me they need to talk to me now, I pause, look and actively listen. I want to be ready to provide support or answer hard questions when my children need it.
Communication helps maintain the emotional and physical foundation of the relationship between parents and children. It fosters continuous bonding and attachment, feelings of safety and support, structures for safe decision-making, and frameworks for understanding world events. I have to remind myself each day how important this communication is both physically and emotionally. By actively listening and communicating, we promote strong and lasting relationships with our children. I am glad I received the reminder to communicate on the first day of school. I am glad to share my experience with you.
Tips for communicating and actively listening with your child:
• Put other tasks and activities aside
• Move to your child’s eye level and make eye contact
• Keep your body relaxed and open, show you are ready to hear anything
• Nod and make statements showing you are listening
• Show empathy about situations if needed
• Communicate your child’s feelings back: “Sounds like you feel…”
• Share your feelings about the topics with your child
• If your child has questions, ask what her thoughts are first and then provide your insights or ideas and ask her to think about them and how they may work
• Model thinking time or problem solving when needed
• Keep words and body language nonjudgmental to help your child to open up about more difficult subjects
• Tell your child “thank you” for talking with you and you love having this time to connect, use words you find come naturally to you
In closing, Diane Loomans reflects:
“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.”