Always, Never the Right Time To Talk?

Do you find it’s always the wrong time to talk to your child?

Have you ever asked your child how their day was only to be met by either an ‘alright’ or a shrug or at worst a ‘why do you always ask me that?’

On the other hand, have you ever found that the best conversations happen when you least expected them? Driving somewhere, doing the shopping, going for a walk?

One of the reasons for this is that when we are doing other activities, the onus is not on the answer, the attention is not drawn to the child directly, there is even little eye contact. That means that the child (and adults too in my experience) feels less anxious, there is less pressure on what they say. This may be simply a case of less multi tasking in the brain.

Through the benefits (?) of using Zoom for work and play so much, I have come to realise that I tend to look away from the camera a lot when I am talking. What me, quite outspoken and ostensibly ‘confident’ me? I was not aware I did it quite so blatantly and that got me thinking, why is it that young people often find one to one conversation tricky and seem to want to avoid the spotlight. From my reading and thinking, I believe some of these points explain why:

· Attention is on the child and there could be a fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’. If you are used to your parent being what you perceive as critical, you don’t want to be judged (this doesn’t mean the parent means to be critical but the child’s perception is important) and so someone listening intently to you may mean you will be told off

· There is sensory overload and looking into someone’s eyes whilst speaking is just too much for our limbic system (the bit controlling emotions) and our pre-frontal cortex (the bit controlling our logical words) to manage at the same time. By looking away or by avoiding a deep chat, this helps our brain to compartmentalise.

· Eyes give away emotion and if emotions are heightened or uncomfortable, the child may not want to ‘give them away’

So, how do you have a deep and meaningful with your child?

· Taking the pressure off the conversation and talking between the gaps is just brilliant. Whilst you are going about your day, kicking a ball about together, playing a game, doing the washing up, driving to the shops, it’s within these other activities when the most important conversations happen.

· Talk about yourself. When you begin talking about your day or something that you’re working out, this prompts the child to talk about something they’ve experienced. I rarely even get to finish my story . The added benefit here is that this models honesty and teaches how to have a 2-way conversation.

· Let the child lead the conversation, it may not seem important but, wait until the end, listen to the detail and sometimes important stuff comes out. When I work with children, the details are the give aways to deeper beliefs and sometimes worries that they would ordinarily never share.

· Finally, when it is the right time for them to talk, listen and respond as if you were just another human being, not a parent trying to be a role model, teach the way etc,. When you just listen, you will hear the words which are important and then can reflect those back. When we really listen, we can also name emotions that we hear described. This is a hard skill for a child and a place where the parent can re-emerge to help out.

It’s amazing what a difference it can make to a person to be listened to, impartially and with kindness and compassion as I am sure you will have experienced when you think about the person who made you want to share. I speak from experience as that is my job – if only I always employed these skills with my children all the time. Of course I can’t constantly but when I do, wow, what a difference.

Spot it, stop it, choose!