Are you a parent who feels that your children don’t listen to you, wondering how to talk to your children? Do you feel that there is a barrier between you and them that causes them to not open up to you? Do you want them to trust you so that you have a better relationship?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then keep reading to find solutions for these problems. I will explain the three keys to gaining your child’s trust so they will talk more openly with you.
How to Talk to Children: 3 Keys to Building Trust With Them
These are tips that will help you to talk to your children and have a better relationship with them.
1. Give Them Your Attention
Giving kids your undivided attention may seem like a logical and easy solution for building communication and trust. However, with the high level of distractions that we have in our culture today (the top distraction being cell phones) it is increasingly more difficult to give undivided attention.
Research reported in the article The Distracting Draw Of Smartphonesshowed that having a cell phone within view, even while not being used, creates a mental distraction for people. In order to communicate with our undivided attention, we need to put the cell phones and other distractions out of view, and out of mind.
Get on Their Level
When you speak with young children, it is important to get on their level, both physically and metaphorically.
If you are going to talk to a two year old, then crouch down on their level so you are face to face, on the same eye level. Then use words that a two year old would understand. Don’t use big words or analogies that they can’t understand. Use basic language that is appropriate for the child’s age and intellect.
Make Eye Contact
Eye contact is a non-verbal form of communication that is very powerful. We communicate so much with our eyes and face without ever saying a word.
If we are towering over a child, it makes eye contact more distant and aloof. Crouching down on the child’s level or sitting across from them in a chair to match their height is a good way to achieve eye contact on their level.
Eye contact communicates to the child that you care enough to pay attention to them. You communicate this by looking in their eyes and not being distracted by anything else. This will build trust in the relationship when they know that you care and you make the effort to communicate on their level with eye contact.
Use Their Name
In the article The Power of Using Someone’s Name, it was stated,
“when we say a person’s name we are telling those who listen how important they are to us.”
There is power in using someone’s first name. It establishes a connection and lets the person know that we are interested in them. It is communicating that they are important to us. Using the child’s name when talking to them will help built trust, as it shows them that they are important.
Use Reflection After Listening
Active listening involves all the things previously discussed. Eye contact, getting on their level, and providing undivided attention are all important behaviors to exhibit which will show the child that you can be trusted because you care about what they have to say.
Taking communication to the next level would include reflecting back what they are saying to you.
For example if your child had a difficult day because they got in an argument with their friend at recess and it made her sad, then you can say “I am sorry to hear you had a difficult day, it sounds like you are sad because you had an argument with your friend.” It is simply reflecting back what they have communicated to let them know that you understand what they have said.
Reflect Their Feelings
Reflecting their feelings is very helpful. This will show that you are empathetic and understand what they have gone through.
If they don’t say what they are feeling, you can always follow up with the question, “how did that make you feel”. Then you can reflect back the feelings that they have expressed and you can acknowledge that you understand their feelings. This will help to give validation of their feelings.
2. Use Warmth and Empathy
Attention to our children is a wonderful thing. However, if the interactions are cold and distant feeling, then trust and positive relationships are not being built. An effort must be made to use warmth, compassion, and empathy when interacting with our children.
This sounds like an easy thing to do. However, when our lives are very hectic and we are feeling stressed, then we can default to less than warm interactions. We need to make the time and effort to talk to our children in a way that conveys warmth and empathy, as this will build a trusting relationship.
Empathy is Imperative
If we want healthy relationships with our children and have their trust, then we must show them empathy. Empathy is simply the ability to see the other person’s perspective. In essence, it is putting yourself in their shoes, as the old saying goes.
For example if your child comes home from school and is acting mopey, moody, and sullen, then take the time to ask them about their day with genuine interest. Ask about what happened to cause them to be in this mood and let them know that you want to help them if you can. Ask them to explain it so you can help understand their life and what they are experiencing at school.
When you aren’t willing to put yourself in your child’s shoes (to see things from their perspective), you are communicating that they aren’t important enough for you to warrant your time, effort, and energy. It can also communicate that you simply don’t care about their perspective and that your point of view is the only one that matters. This can be terribly destructive to the parent-child relationship.
Children who are modeled good empathy can better develop empathy. If we want to raise our kids to care about others and the world around them, then we must teach them empathy. One of the most influential ways to teach a child empathy is through our modeling. How we model empathy and treat them empathetically affects their ability to learn empathy.
3. Be Consistent
When you are parenting a child, it is important to be consistent and fair. Children thrive in environments when they know what to expect and a routine has been established.
For example, if you have established a reward system for chores and then decide one day that you don’t want to follow through with the payment (without fair reasons), then this sends mixed messages to the child. It can be conveying the message that their efforts were not appreciated or that they are not worthy of being rewarded.
If you say you are going to do something, then you must stick to your word. That is consistency and it also makes you a reliable adult in their life.
Consistency and routine can go a long way toward making your child feel secure. Security at home will help them feel that they can trust you.
Make Consequences Fair
One way that good relationships with children is destroyed is by making your child feel defeated. If the consequences when they have done something wrong is too severe, they will fear and distrust you.
For example, if your child took a cookie out of the cookie jar without your permission, and you take away technology privileges for an entire month for this single offense, then the child is likely to feel that the consequence was unfair. This will lead to the child feeling resentful toward the parent because of their lack of fairness.
Determine consequences that are fair and reasonable. Be sure that the rules are reasonable and fair as well. If you are overly strict this can drive the child away from you, as they will perceive you as unfair and not on their side.
Provide Options and Choices
When we are raising our children, our goal is to create independent human beings. That doesn’t happen overnight though. It happens through opportunities of allowing the child to be independent and make decisions.
Of course, decisions should be age appropriate and within the parent’s rule structure. For example, allowing a child to decide whether they want to have juice or milk for dinner (for a toddler), or whether they want to go with the family to a concert or earn money babysitting for the neighbor on their Friday night (for a teen).
We can create opportunities for independence by offering our children options and choices. This allows the child to feel that you trust them to make decisions for themselves. In Love and Logic parenting methods, you use a decision model, which can include discussion of the potential consequences. You can see an example of how this works in the article Guiding Children to Solve Their Own Problems.
Avoid Harsh Threats and Harsh Words
Giving a child verbal threats is not a good idea, nor is using harsh words. These both will create distrust in the relationship. If you tell a child that they are stupid or awful, then how can they ever trust you?
If threats of punishment are harsh and unrealistic that is also harmful to building a trusting relationship. For example, telling a child that they can go live on the streets if they aren’t more appreciative will not help in building a trusting relationship. They may begin to feel that they aren’t wanted in their home or that they may be kicked out at any moment. That creates insecurity and distrust in the relationship.
Adults should always be conscience of whether or not they are including their children. For example, if you have three kids and you take only two out for ice cream then the third child is going to feel excluded. Parents should especially be aware of kids being excluded or treated less than any of the other children in the family. Making efforts to include all children equally is conducive in building trusting family relationships.
Everyone wants to feel accepted. We are all different. No two people are exactly alike. We need to keep this in mind with our own children. They are not us. They are human beings apart from us with their own views, ideas, and ways of doing life. We must be willing to accept that our children are different than us and we love them regardless.
When you let a child know that you accept them, differences and all, you are building trust in your relationship with them. Accepting them means not criticizing their differences (unless they go against legal, moral, or ethical standards by which you are raising your children of course).
For example, if your son is passionate about wanting to learn to play the violin and you, on the other hand, play football and never had any interest in music, then showing this child acceptance of their interests would help gain their trust in your relationship. Setting up lessons to learn the violin and respecting their interest in this activity will further build trust in the relationship.
Building Trust for All Ages
Building trust with people of any age involves much of the same components. It is making the person feel understood, included, accepted, and that their feelings are validated.
Whether we are three years old or sixty years old we all have a desire for relationships in which we feel trusted and we can trust the other person. A trusting relationship that involves good communication skills and makes both parties feel included, accepted, understood and wanted will help each individual thrive in the relationship.
Featured photo credit: Gabe Pierce via unsplash.com