Without having to ask a million irritating questions.
As a parent, you can usually tell when your child is facing social problems with friends at school — even if they haven't said anything about it.
But no matter how many parenting tips or advice books you've read about creating an open, secure relationship with your kid, it can feel impossible to get more than a one word answer.
Like many parents, you can probably relate to this scenario: Your child walks through the door, you ask how her day was, and all she says is, “Fine!”
As a parent, it's natural to worry and wonder about your child’s life outside your household. And when you sense something is off, your parenting skills go into overdrive.
You suddenly find yourself acting as a secret agent seeking information, but at the same time, trying to give your kid the space she needs to be independent.
You see the signs though, and you know that everything is not okay. There are fewer social meet-ups than usual, and not many texts from friends. When you ask your child about it, she explodes into a shrill and says, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She continues to brush by you and shrugs off any comment you offer. She seems not to hear a word you say. Your child is acting like she's in the witness protection program keeping things tight to the vest. You wonder what to do.
When children act out, hiss at you, or even dismiss your questioning, it’s a sign something is going on. But without information, it is hard to pinpoint what exactly.
It is important not to take the shunning personally. Whether your little girl is entering kindergarten and fears taking the bus for the first time, or your son is starting high school and is anxious about making the football team, your child may have worries they cannot even express to you.
So if you aren't looking to become the next great detective, there are things you can do to make your child feel more comfortable opening up to you.
Here are 5 parenting tips for how to get your kid to feel comfortable talking to you about their social problems at school with friends.
1. Don’t surrender the conversation
It’s easy to be rebuffed by your child and then give up. But by surrendering the conversation, you are leaving your child without critical guidance. Start by finding a consistent time or a positive place to talk about any social issues your kid is encountering.
Break up the routine. Spend time with your child one-on-one without siblings, and give your child the space to hear that you care and that you're worried. This time together will help your child feel comfortable opening up to you.
2. No matter what they say, empathize
Information is power. Often as parents, it is difficult not to react to what your child says. We’ve all launched right into blame, punishment, advice and, then, “I told you so.”
No matter what your child says — he skipped school, is avoiding lunch, or he broke the coffee table — let go of the desire to jump in and react. Take a moment to breathe, and then, listen.
The larger goal is to gain your child’s trust, and it is more important than any minor rule infraction. Taking a moment to step back will help your child know that he can always feel comfortable coming to you, no matter what social problems he's encountering — now or in the future.
3. Reflect, clarify and be curious
Paraphrasing what your child says and then repeating it back to him shows empathy and helps you clarify your child’s concerns. For example, he might declare that he believes that, “People should invite me to play — I shouldn’t have to approach them.”
“Reflect” this statement back to him: “What I hear you are saying is that you won’t approach anyone; they must come to you.” By summarizing and repeating his statements, you allow your child to clarify, share more information, and to tell his interpretation of the statement.
By being curious and trying to understand his perspective, you invite him to be comfortable opening up to you.
4. Don’t impose your goals on the situation
Ask your child questions and listen. Do not assume you know the reasons for your child’s behavior. Do not apply pressure and impose your own goals and agenda on the situation.
Getting your child to feel comfortable talking to you is about hearing and waiting and showing confidence that they have the capacity to learn and grow.
5. Partner and problem solve with your child
Like anyone, children share more when they feel heard and understood. They can put their guard down, engage more readily in the coaching process, commit to developing their social skills, and invest in their success.
When you allow for more of a two-way conversation, your child will be more comfortable opening up to you about social problems.
Having a calm, open discussion in the heat of the moment allows your child to know that in the future, he can count on you as a partner rather than a judge.
Managing your feelings, however, is not an easy task. Sometimes, we all react with too much emotion. All we can do is the best we can each day and start again tomorrow.
So continue to listen, collaborate, and have real conversations with your child. This will help you have a lifelong open line of communication that will hep you be the best parent you can be for your kid.
Caroline Maguire is a certified coach, the director of the Fundamentals of ADD Coaching for Families at the ADD Coach Academy, has her masters in education and is the author of Why Will No One Play With Me? coming in 2019. You can follow her tips to solve common social dilemmas by signing up for her new mini-course on her website.