Walking the Tight Rope: 3 ways to keep your kids talking to you!

You ever feel like you are trying to figure out your next step, next statement when talking to your kids about an important topic. You realize that this talk, though isn’t the end all, it is important enough that you worry you will do or say the wrong thing that will reduce the likelihood that your kids will come back and discuss topics like this with you again! No pressure though! 

In my case, the conversation is about friendship and I realize that this one conversation is either the beginning or the end of conversations like these. See the problem is pretty common, the transformation of friendships coming into Middle School. The combination of 3 elementary schools pour into this one middle school, allowing my daughter and hundreds of others to get to know new peers. My oldest is kind, confident and loyal, however, with the new opportunities for new friendships her loyalty to old friends has come into questions. And frankly, I’m struggling with how to help! 

We want so badly for our kids to communicate these things to us, but often we say something “wrong” and it leads to frustration and them shutting down. So here are some ideas to keep the line of communication open: 

  1. LISTEN, and then LISTEN some more. Too often I listen to the complaint of my children with only the intention of finding a solution. In our attempt to comfort we try to fix, which turns into us not listening at all, instead making our child feel both unloved and unheard! So we need to truly listen to what they are saying. If they are telling you their complaint, their story, it is a big deal to them and in itself should warrant our attention. 

          • Side note! This does not mean you need to sit and listen to the details of Minecraft or Tic Tok for 30 plus minutes as an act of love! If you spend an intentional, attentive and responsive conversation for even just 10 minutes this could be an invaluable act of love for your child. It’s not about the amount of time, but the intentionality in the moment. 

  1. ASK QUESTIONS NOT MAKE STATEMENTS! If we as parents continue to make declarative statements with no opportunity to oppose, our kids will not feel they can be safe in sharing their choices or their struggles. They hear judgement and our lack of faith in their decision making. Instead, when we ask them questions about what they think they should do, they feel our support and confidence in their decision making. And they could even turn it around and ask us what we think they should do!

  1. LET THEM FAIL! Ok, this is the most counter intuitive statement a parent can live out. But here is the root of this statement, to let them fail is to love them! Wait what??!! Crazy I know, but hear me out. After we have listened well, prompted questions to help them determine what they think is best, then we allow them to live out the consequences of that choice! How is this love? It is in the lesson learned that has matured them so they can make better, wiser choices that ultimately help make them healthy adults! 

      • I’m of course not talking about illegal or dangerous behaviors, but rather moral and character building decisions. Just like you wouldn’t do your child’s homework because you know that they need to learn the material so they can pass the test. As parents we should certainly still share our wisdom when discerned appropriate, however if they do not follow our guidance then we must release control and allow the natural consequences of their decisions. 

So where does that leave me with my daughter and her friends? I’m trying to listen, letting her make her own decisions, sharing my concerns only briefly, and reminding myself that even though this is a tough season it is equipping her to be a healthy adult some day! 

Paige Clingenpeel

Teen Therapist working with teens and parents on TV, Radio, Web-Based Media, Blogs, and Print. Presently a monthly contributor to the women's parenting & marriage site iMom.com, and host of TBN's Tween show iShine K'Nect. Paige also provides individual therapy at LifeSprings Counseling Center, and works at Parkview Health as a student assistant counselor assigned to Carroll High School. Paige is married to Ryan and has two daughters and two sons!