Have you ever found yourself sharing an important message to your children- but felt like your words and perspectives were going in one ear and out the other? Depending on the age of the children, knowing your audience and keeping a few tips in mind to navigate conversations so that you can use your voice wisely (and be heard) are key to parent-child communications.
This makes sense of course- just like we take what we know about our spouses, family and friends- in mind before we have difficult conversations- knowing our audience and the moods of our children is critical. Century Council National Advisory Board member, Dr. Anthony Wolf, a clinical psychologist and best-selling author reminds us that with each stage of growth, communicating important messages to our children involves strategy and being intentional to use your voice smartly.
We know the “why” of why we should #TalkEarly…but what about the how?
10 Tips to #TalkEarly about Difficult Topics
1. Forget the lecture
Children know when they are about to be lectured- and usually by the time we have positioned ourselves to say everything that we want to say, tweens and teens have moved on to think about other things in their head while we talk. Speaking to teens in an adult tone instead of our mom and dad voices will convey the idea that we respect their ability to listen and make decisions.
2. Be genuine
Our children notice everything we say or do, so instead of hiding from topics- being honest and genuine is key especially when talking about underage drinking. My daughter for instance, sees me drink wine at dinner or have a cocktail occasionally – so when she asked why it was ok for adults to drink but not kids, I had to use the responsible drinking behaviors that she sees from me as an example instead of something to avoid in the conversation. Dr. Wolf also emphasizes the importance of deciding how revealing you want to be while still being genuine.
3. Respond to their questions
Often times we think that we know what our children are wondering. We prepare ourselves with a long list of explanations and proceed to delve into details go into great depth. The truth is that children- whether they are young, tweens or teens, process by asking questions and interpreting answers. Instead of leading with our depth of information, allowing children to lead the conversations by asking them “what questions do you have?” can help us guide appropriate answers.
4. There is no magic way to start the conversation
Whether you are talking about the reasons that underage drinking is bad for you, school and studying or the idea of being a global citizen, Dr. Wolf suggests that there is no magic way to start the conversation. We need to set patterns as parents with our children to emphasize the importance of having real conversations, about real topics that occur in real life as opposed to after the fact or perhaps when we “think” our children are ready.
5. These are not debate topics
Certain topics are not up for debate. There is no reason to try to convince a teen that something is good or bad. Instead, focus on facts and lead with your perspective- and the reasoning for your perspective. This can be especially hard when you have a child, like I do that likes to debate everything. These conversations though are not about our being right (even if we are)- as much as they are trying to have genuine conversations.
6. Do not be afraid to leave open space in the conversation
Sometimes it is ok, in fact better to have silent pauses in conversation to help process information. Just because we have an important conversation does not mean that there has to be talking the entire time. In education, this is called wait time. Wait time is especiallly important because sometimes by waiting, a child (or adult) can process and reflect and develop questions instead of being bombarded with a constant stream of words.
7. Do not be insulted when adolescents develop an allergy to their parents
It is a perfectly acceptable developmental stage for adolescents to develop an extreme aversion, or allergy to parents. Their grumpy and seemingly disrespectful moods can be infuriating, but the truth is- that is rarely actually about us. Instead of taking it personally, parents need to have a sense of humor about it. (I admit- I struggle with this one. We are currently on a 10 cent payment plan every time my daughter talks back- so clearly, I need to pay more attention to this tip).
8. Parents cannot control everything
At some point we have to acknowledge that as parents, we simply cannot control everything, try as we might. The goal for talking early to children is to lay the foundation so that as they grow, they can make good choices. Trust is a two-way street and adolescents will pick up on when we do or do not trust them.
9. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Although we need to know our audience and allow for spontaneous talking, we also need to repeat ourselves as parents. Adolescents will hear bits and pieces over time.
10. The ultimate tool to #TalkEarly is to have a connection
Parents have more influence on their children when there is a well-developed connection. Knowing that we care about our children, more than anything, can be the deciding factor in how our important conversations are interpreted.
While Dr. Wolf’s tips relate in large part to how to #TalkEarly to our children about underage drinking- but really they apply across settings and topics. The more we make having real conversations part of our regular family routines, the more our children will know that these topics are not just mom and dad trying to prove that they are great parents (or that they know everything). Moments occur spontaneously in life- and learning to seize those moments or knowing when to walk away from a moment or topic can make a huge difference in communicating with success.
Curious about The Century Council? Founded in 1991 and funded by distillers, the Century Council is a national, independent, not-for-profit organization that partners with law enforcement, public officials, educators, parents, and students to fight against drunk driving and underage drinking.)
As a member of the #TalkEarly parent blogger team, this post is part of a campaign sponsored by The Century Council. All opinions are my own.