It can be tough to connect with your kids—especially if they don’t want to connect with you.
As parents, we want to have a close, meaningful relationship with each of our children. But for loving, intimate relationships to work, open and sincere communication is needed. And yet why does it sometimes seem that our children don’t want to let us in?
Here are three principles that may help you and your children communicate better.
1. Follow Heavenly Father’s Example
Heavenly Father wants to hear from us, and He actively works to establish a connection with His children. What can parents learn from Heavenly Father’s example?
- He is available when we are. It’s amazing how often we forget to connect with our Heavenly Father until we need something. But when we finally do reach out, He always listens, He always loves us, and He is always there.
- He is patient and forgiving. It can be tempting to lecture our children about their life choices—and, sure, sometimes they need gentle correction. However, endlessly lecturing or shaming our children could turn them away from us. Heavenly Father’s approach is the better pattern. He teaches us about good and evil and establishes clear expectations, but then He extends mercy to us when we turn to Him and seek His forgiveness through His Son. As parents, when we demonstrate these same attributes, our children are more likely to open up.
- He lets us feel His love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He loves us, and He helps us to feel that love. Show your children love, even when they misbehave.
- He sets clear standards and boundaries. God gives us commandments and direction because He loves us. He knows that we will be happier and avoid much misery and regret if we follow His standards (see Alma 41:10). He also holds us accountable for our choices. This helps us learn from our mistakes and continue to progress. We can follow this pattern of parenting with our children.
Take a few minutes and ponder all the ways Heavenly Father loves, listens, and connects with His children. For example, how does He set boundaries and standards? How does He help us to be accountable?
2. Ask Questions and Listen More Than You Talk
When speaking with our children, it is how we ask questions—and how they are received—that will make the difference between a safe, connecting conversation and a strained or awkward confrontation.
So how do you ask questions to invite connection instead of contention?
- Be prayerful. Heavenly Father will help you ask the right questions.
- Your children can feel the intentions behind your questions. Make sure you’re motivated by love. Ask yourself, “How would I react to this question?” before you ask it.
- Let the Spirit guide your questions.
- If you think the conversation could become tense, consider writing out your feelings and your questions beforehand. Listen to the Spirit as you write.
- Share your love first. Share why you want to connect before you ask questions.
- Express empathy. This will help your children feel safe to share their problems with you and look to you for help.
- Find every opportunity to build, lift, and compliment throughout your conversation.
When your child begins to talk, listen. Validate your child’s feelings. Try using brief, one-word questions like “really?” “when?” and “how?” to help them keep talking. Repeat or paraphrase what they have just said to make sure you’re understanding what they mean.
Resist the temptation to jump right in with suggestions or solutions. Instead, focus on supporting and listening, and then invite your children to share what they think might be possible solutions to problems. Communicate your confidence in their ability to work through the challenge.
3. Lead with Faith in Christ
The world can be an overwhelming place for kids, with so many temptations, so much technology, and so many scenarios we never had to deal with when we were their age. So, how do we not let fear direct our conversations?
Faith overcomes fear. The Savior said, “Fear not” (Luke 12:32), because He overcame the world. If we place Him at the center of our hearts and homes, we and our children can overcome all the challenges set before us.
Let Christ be the center of your connection with your children, and let your conversations be led by the Holy Ghost. This will help them put Jesus Christ in the center of their lives.
Looking for more guidance? Here are a few conversation starters that may help:
- You seem a little sad. What’s up?
- It seems like you’re worried about something. Do you want to talk?
- How are you feeling about [a class, a friend, an experience]?
- Do you know I love you and want to always be here for you?
- How’s life? What’s stressing you out right now?