Like any good parent, you want to know what’s going on with your child. Oftentimes, when we ask them ‘What’s wrong?’, we see them get quiet, change the subject, or tell us what they think we want to hear, which can be incredibly frustrating! Whether you’re married, a single parent, a divorced parent, or remarried and trying to help co-parent, these are some things your child wants you to know, but it too afraid to tell you.
- You’re scary when you yell
Let’s face it, we’ve all lost our temper with our families. Sometimes it’s stress at work or marital conflict, or maybe you’ve just been home with the kids all day and if they ask you one more question, you’re going to pop! And managing your temper is often easier said than done. But in order to facilitate healthy communication with your child and teach them how to communicate, you have to learn how to keep this in check. When you yell it triggers a fight or flight response in your children, even if you aren’t yelling directly at them. Over time, this creates an atmosphere of unease and your child learns to yell back or act out physically (fight) or recluse into her/himself (flight) and not feel comfortable talking with you.
How do I fix this? Calm, open communication with your child is key. Validating and summarizing the questions they ask or things they tell you, even if they seem insignificant to you as an adult, are very important to your child. This will help them feel heard and cared for, as well as will show them that you’re a safe person to connect with the next time something happens.
- I like my step-mom/step-dad
This one can be a hit to the gut. Whenever there’s been a messy divorce or intense court involvement with your ex, it makes it really easy to wish your child didn’t like him or her. And when there’s a new spouse or significant other in your ex’s life, this becomes even more complicated. Often, children have seen your interactions with your ex, or heard you talk about them in a negative way; or even if you’ve been very careful to not say anything negative, children can usually pick up non-verbal communication and read body language enough to know some of your feelings. So they don’t want to tell you when they’ve had a good time at their dad’s, or like their new Step-father.
How do I fix this? Safety is key. Your child needs to feel secure enough in his or her relationship with you, to know that you’ll support them. Maybe you and your ex did not work as a couple, but you’ve created these wonderful, beautiful children, and validating that you want your child and your ex to be happy, goes a long way towards relieving the pressure your child feels to be loyal to you.
- I can’t be your friend
This is a tough one. In an effort to be close to your child, you’ve gotten to a place that you’re over-sharing about your day at work or your finances or your relationship with your spouse/ex. This is easy to do especially as your child gets older, but it puts an enormous amount of pressure on them, and though they may start to look more like an adult, they still have the concrete feelings and thoughts of a child and should not be expected to carry those kinds of emotional burdens.
How do I fix this? Get your own support. If you find that you’re over-sharing with your child, it’s important to apologize to them and reassure them that you’ll be working on things yourself and with other adults to manage whatever issues may be going on. Whether it’s talking to friends or family more, seeking individual or marital counseling, talking to a financial advisor, or being more open with your boss; you need to be the adult in your relationship with your child. They only get to be kids for a short time, let them enjoy it!
- Sarcasm makes me feel dumb
Children are incredibly inquisitive. So much so, that sometimes parents make jokes or sarcastic comments at their child’s expense to make another adult laugh or correct their child. Younger kids often don’t pick up on this, but as they get older children realize that they’re being made fun of or being corrected in an unkind way, and this makes them feel stupid. This, in turn, causes your child to stop asking questions, stop communicating unless they have to, and/or starting using sarcasm back towards their parents out of habit or because they’re defensive. Parents then see this as disrespect, even though the parent continues to use it. For a pre-teen or teenager, this is incredibly hypocritical and makes the child withdraw more.
How do I fix this? Be genuine. If your child is asking a question, they likely don’t know the answer and are looking to you to help them. Try to answer in a kind, honest way. This will increase your child’s trust in you to care for them and make them more open to talking in the future.
If your child asks the same question over and over or asks a question that you think they should know the answer to. Use it as a learning experience. Prompt them to think about the last conversation you had about the topic and see if they can recall the answer. If so, they’re learning a life skill on how to recall information. If they can’t remember or continue to ask the same question, they may have genuinely forgotten or need reassurance from you about the answer.
You’ve got this! A good relationship with your child is all about healthy communication and good boundaries. Your child needs you and wants to talk with you! Help them learn these healthy communication skills and it will make all the difference for your family and for your children’s future!
Kate Hamlin, MA, LPC, NCC
Kate is a professional counselor at Miranda Counseling in Leawood, KS. She’s worked with children and families in the Kansas City Area for over 8 years and loves seeing families connecting and growing. For any further questions or comments, visit our website at mirandacounseling.com or call our intake line at 913-295-9800.