* From the very beginning, strive to promote an atmosphere of honest, open communication with your children. Encourage each child to feel free to honestly share what is on his heart with you. Of course, it’s very important to avoid reacting in a critical, condemning or condescending way to a child who is pouring out his heart, confessing a mistake or sharing a fear etc.—if your child meets such a negative reaction from you, he will probably have second thoughts before sharing his heart with you next time.
“Special times” of open-hearted discussions, combined with lots of loving embraces, greatly assures young children of our love and genuine concern, as we strive to intently listen to and understand them! Your child will never forget such special times spent with you. In most cases, these are the moments that we treasured most when we were children: when our parents invested their love in the form of personal time and attention with us, just talking about things together.
Of course, before we can expect our children to be honest with us, we must be honest with them. It greatly encourages children to know that their parents are not exactly perfect. (Besides, you can be sure they’ve noticed!) By your own honest admission of your mistakes and weaknesses, you are setting a good example for them of what honesty and humility are all about, and your children will love you the more for it!
As in any kind of honest communication, it can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to be a good listener to the one who is talking. A good, listening parent is not busy reading the newspaper or making a cup of tea while his or her child is pouring out his heart about the loss of a best friend, or communicating his innermost worries and fears. As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our sincere interest in them and their problems, as manifested by our undivided attention and uninterrupted listening whenever possible.
By the act of simply listening, you are telling your child: “I want to understand and help you. I think you are worth listening to, and i want you to know that I have faith in you. You can always talk to me because I love you.”
* Ask questions. (Kids shouldn’t be the only inquisitive party!) When genuinely communicating with children—or with anyone for that matter—asking questions helps to draw them out and shows your concern and interest in them. Get them to talk.
When they are asking you the questions, be careful not to philosophize or pretend to be something you’re not. Just stay simple! And don’t offer any advice that you wouldn’t want to practically apply yourself.
* Learn to present your advice or answers in ways that are easy for them to accept. Make it “easy for them to be good” by allowing them to think that it’s at least partly their idea too. For example, “I liked your comment on needing to change things a bit. Let’s try your idea!”, or “what do you think about trying this idea?”, or, “haven’t you found that this works better?”
* When something goes wrong, it’s important not to be too quick to judge a matter. There are always at least two sides to every story, and it helps greatly to hear all sides from all those who are involved. Most of us have made the grave mistake of making a snap judgment or acting impulsively, resulting in a child being unjustly accused and deeply hurt. A mother could hear a crash in the room, and run in to find her young daughter in tears beside a shattered vase on the floor. To immediately whack the child with no explanation adds insult to injury, when by merely asking what happened first, the child could explain that she was attempting to stop the cat from climbing on the table, trying to shoo it away, when the cat knocked the vase over, not she!
We should forgive our children and be as fair and merciful with them as possible. But by continually passing quick harsh judgment on them, our children could easily lose such trust and confidence in us.—and could wind up being afraid to confide in you and confess things that they really are guilty of or need help with!
Excerpted from the writings of D.B. Berg. © The Family International. Used with permission.