Tips on Preparing Yourself to Have Deep Conversations with Your Children
Thursday, July 13th, 2017
From the DECIMOS NO MÁS campaign
Sometimes it can take a while for children to ask their question or tell a story. This may be because they’re still young or because they find it difficult asking you about a sensitive subject. Try to resist the temptation to tell them to get to the point or hurry things along. By listening patiently, you allow your children to think and prepare their thoughts at their own pace, and you communicate that they’re worthy of your time.
Don’t interrupt your children when they’re telling you a story or asking a question. Wait until they come to a full stop of at least five seconds (you can count in your head!), then ask a follow-up question before giving your opinion. Ask them, for example, “What else?” or “What makes you say that?”
For example, if your children ask you how many people are gay and you don’t know the answer, consider responding with something like: “That’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up.” Don’t be afraid to let your children (of any age) see you don’t have all the answers; this is a better response than dismissing the question or rushing to give inaccurate information because you don’t know the answer on the spot. Letting your children see you don’t have all the answers is also a way to model good communication and healthy relationships — they learn to be open and honest, and to give themselves and others space to learn.
Listen to your children
While it’s normal and understandable for conversations to unfold as you’re performing routine tasks such as waiting for the bus, making dinner, or grocery shopping, make sure you also find time to give your children your undivided attention. Dedicating time and energy to listen to them shows you respect them, they are important to you, and the things that matter to them matter to you, too. It also helps you understand what your children really want to know, and what they already understand.
Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Allow children of all ages to express their ideas, expectations, questions, and concerns. Be careful not to dismiss their ideas as “wrong” or “childish.” Rather, encourage dialogue by asking them to tell you more or describe how they arrived to a certain conclusion. Children, especially teens, will look to you for information, advice, and answers only if they feel you are open to their questions and thoughts. It’s up to you to create the kind of environment in which your children can ask questions about any subject freely and without fear of consequences.
Give positive feedback
Give positive feedback when you see or hear of your children making healthy and respectful choices about their own communications (including practicing good listening) and relationships with friends and family. Tell your children you are impressed when they do things that reflect your values. You can say, “I admire the way you helped your sister today, even though you were annoyed. What made you react that way? It was very mature and I like it when you’re kind to her.”
Be courageous. If your children are old enough to ask a question, they are old enough to hear the correct answer and learn the correct words.
- Be sure that you understand what your children are asking. Rephrase the question for clarification. For example: “I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean. Are you asking why people hold hands, or are you asking if it’s OK for you to hold someone else’s hand?” You don’t want to give a long explanation that doesn’t answer the question.
- When possible, answer the question when it is asked. Take advantage of the teachable moments. For example, if your child asks you, “How are babies made?” as you are leaving for work, assure your child that you are happy to talk about that question because it is an important one, but that you will answer at a different time when both of you can have quality time with each other. “We’ll talk about this while you and I make dinner tonight, OK?” And make sure you do make time.
- If your child has a developmental disability or is more a visual learner, use pictures and other visual aids as often as you can. For example, photos of family or friends can illustrate conversations about relationships and social interactions.
For more information on how to talk to your children about healthy relationships, communication, and sexuality, visit the DECIMOS NO MÁS website.