Despite having a pretty open relationship with my kids, there are times when they don't want to share with me.
"Nothing's wrong." "I'm fine." "Leave me alone." "I'm good."
I was conditioned to answer every question asked of me. Even if I didn't want to. That, among other things, created a lack of boundaries for me. So, I don't require that of my kids.
But I don't disregard it either.
I give it some time to see if they can work it out themselves, or sometimes "it" even works itself out.
But, as parents, we know when there is something hanging over them that isn't going away on its own. We can read it in their posture, attitude, interactions, tone of voice, and behavior.
Sometimes it's not that they don't want to share; it's that they can't just yet, or they don't know how to.
There are ways you can offer your support without forcing it.
1. Don't take it personally.
Remember, this is about them, not you. Unfortunately, sometimes our feelings get hurt because we believe they should be confiding in us. When they don't, we take it personally, but in doing so, we make it about us instead of them. Just remember, there are times you don't feel like sharing either, and it usually has nothing to do with the person opposite you.
2. Make them aware.
Tell them you are noticing something seems to be off with them. Describe what you're seeing in a non-judgmental, caring way. Sometimes something is brewing under the surface, and they're not fully aware of it yet.
"I notice you've been snapping a lot lately. Maybe you aren't even aware. Let me know if you'd like to talk about anything. I'd love to help if I can, even if it's just to listen. Sound good?"
Then leave it. Don't push. Make the offer and then move on to something else. Give them time to think and process.
We often offer this kind of unconditional support to adults in our lives, but not our kids. Can you remember a time you insisted a friend tell you what was wrong right that minute?
3. Spend time with them.
Do something fun. Go for dinner or ice cream. Take a walk. Go shopping together. Be in their presence. Chat about nothing.
Sometimes being around you in a stress-free way is enough for them to open up.
Sometimes they just need to feel comfortable enough to say what they want to say.
This often, for me, looks like laying down with them at the end of the day before bed and just physically being there. No questions.
Stay as long as they need you to.
Even if they don't open up at this moment, your presence is noted, and it makes a difference to them.
4. Show them they aren't the only ones.
If you have any indication of what might be bothering them, you could open up about something similar. "Did I ever tell you about the time...?" "I was so embarrassed when…" "I felt bad the time I…" If they feel like they're not the only ones, they may be more willing to share.
"Me too" is so much easier than "I."
5. Model receiving support.
Let them help you with something.
Ask them if they might be willing to help you with a problem you're having. Confide in them something troubling you (please note; the intention is not to burden them with a significant problem. Think small).
Ask them if they have any suggestions. Be open to what they have to say. You might even find some evidence of what they're going through in their response. And who knows, they might offer you some really good advice!
An example of this might be, "My friend said something that hurt my feelings, and I'm not quite sure what to do."
Or… "I am feeling really overwhelmed with everything I have to get done. Do you have any advice on how I can work through it? What do you do when you're overwhelmed?"
Thank them for their assistance, and be sure to tell them how much it helped and how happy you are that you asked for their help😊. Kids love to help. Added bonus; a boost to their self-esteem.
If they have no suggestions, problem solve it together.
"Maybe we can try to figure this out together. I think I could start with a deep breath. That always seems to calm me down. What do you think? Let me try it…"
Model the behavior of addressing a concern and coming up with a solution together AND, as a bonus, you are modeling a solution for something they may experience at some point themselves. Win-win.
6. If and when they share, listen well, be open, give them your undivided attention, don't judge, remain calm, ask questions, and maybe the most difficult, don't give advice unless they ask. Remember, the goal is to provide them with What They Need.
All of this is important if you want them to continue to open up and share with you.
If you can integrate these six actions into your everyday life, not just when they are struggling, you will see a difference in your communication and relationship.
Until next time…