Monday, October 9, 2023

Up Your Communication Skills with Your Kids

Sometimes it’s really hard to figure out the best ways to communicate with your child or teen. Kids aren’t always super interested in hearing from us parents, mostly because they think we’re going to say something annoying. So, to try and catch and keep your kids’ attention when you want to communicate something to them, try this, instead of…

INSTEAD OF minimizing, TRY acknowledging:

It can sometimes feel like the best way to deal with your kids’ big feelings, dramatic reactions, or tantrums is to try and convince them that whatever they are upset about is not as big of a deal as they think it is. While that may help to comfort some adults, or less sensitive children and teens, it can be counter-intuitive for highly sensitive kids. For highly sensitive children and teens - and their nervous systems - it actually IS that big of a deal. It is very important that in these difficult moments our kids feel heard. While we may need to work on how they process their emotions, we cannot forget to recognize their feelings. For example, instead of saying “Don’t worry it’s not that big of a deal,” try starting the conversation with, “I know that this is very important to you.” 

INSTEAD OF disregarding, TRY allowing

In situations where your child or teen seems to be overreacting, or you as a parent are losing your patience to help them to calm down (don’t worry, this happens to everyone), sometimes our instinct is to dismiss our kiddo’s complaint or issue. How many times have we said to our kids, “You’re okay.” “Nothing is going to happen.” “It’s fine.” “It was an accident,” “It’s done.” etc.. Obviously, this comes from a rational place of knowing that they will, in fact, be okay, but in the moment it can be hard for that message to resonate, especially for highly sensitive children and teens. The next time you want to say something like this, try to create a space to allow your kiddo to feel what they are feeling first, “It looks like you got scared.” “I know you weren’t expecting this.'' “It seems like this is making you feel uncomfortable.” Allow the feeling first before trying to help your child or teen through it. 

INSTEAD OF justifying, TRY validating

When we approach situations with our children and teens with an adult mindset, we often miss the mark. This is especially true when it comes to sensory issues like not wanting to wear a certain kind of clothes, not wanting to eat a certain kind of food, etc. It’s natural for us to try and appeal to them in a rational way like, “How do you know you won’t like it if you’ve never tried it?” While that may be true, like in many other interactions, more sensitive kiddos are unable to respond to that logic. To them, they already know that wearing/eating/doing whatever is in question is going to make them feel a loss of control that will make them uncomfortable. While we can obviously try to get them to de-escalate or re-direct their behavior, we should prioritize validating their feelings. “I know it’s not your favorite shirt and the collar is annoying but..” or “I know this isn’t what you expected for dinner but..”. Help your child or teen understand what might have to happen AFTER connecting with their emotional experience.

INSTEAD OF shifting attention, TRY asking questions

In attempts to re-direct or avoid the situation getting worse, many times we say or do things to shift our child’s or teen’s attention to something else. Most of the time this strategy is used in hopes that they will forget about what was bothering or triggering them, but it doesn’t always work, and at its best it is only a short-term solution. Trying to change directions by saying things like, “Come on, don’t get upset (or cry, or scream, etc.),” Let’s play (eat lunch, come help me, etc.),” is not always going to be the best strategy. Sometimes it’s better for everyone to try and face the crisis head on and prove to your kiddo that you’re taking them and their feelings seriously. Asking questions like, “I wonder what would make you feel better?” Or “Is there something we can do to take our minds off of [x]?” can help us achieve better results now and teaches our children and teens coping skills for the future.

Give it a try and see what happens!