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5 Rules for talking to your kids

A message to all the parents out there feeling powerless and unheard:


You are not powerless and you are certainly not unheard!  You have no idea how much power your words carry in the heads and hearts of your children.  What you say MATTERS!  Your words form the voice your kids carry around with them for the rest of their life. I know it looks like they aren’t listening.  It feels like you just keep saying the same thing on an endless repeat loop.  You talk and talk and they roll their eyes.  Don’t let them fool you!  They hear you and what you say MATTERS. They may not act on your well-intentioned advice – or even comply with a direct order (CLEAN YOUR ROOM!).  That doesn’t mean they don’t listen.  Your opinion of them – of their character, their competence, their very nature –  comes through loud and clear and provide the foundation of their own self image.

And you keep that power for life. You can make your middle-aged corporate-power-wielding offspring feel like a misguided child with a word… or even just a look. None of us ever outgrow the need for our parent’s love.  Over and over I sit with adults in my office who are hurting over some careless word from a parent. Even when we no longer believe our parents are bigger-than-life heroes, we still crave their good opinion and we hate the idea of disappointing them.

Here are some guidelines to make sure you use your power for good:

  1. Err on the side of compassion.  Be kind first.  This applies whether your child is 5 or 50.  Give your child the benefit of the doubt and assume the best about them.  They will be much more likely to share with you again if you handle their heart gently this time.
  2. Pay attention to the emotional content of what your child shares.  Correction, advice, even opinions taste better after we feel understood.  So try to get in touch with your child’s experience of the situation before you start offering anything else.  Of course there are times when you will need to correct (at least until your kids have driver’s licenses and high school diplomas).  Do it gently understanding that they will carry your voice in their head for life.
  3. Keep your motives in check.  We are parents who want the very best for our child.  We are people who have wants and needs and insecurities. We have to learn to recognize which of these is motivating what comes out of our mouth.  Don’t burden your child with YOUR unmet needs or fears.  It is not their job to fulfill your needs or to make you feel safe.
  4. Be a role model.  Do you want your child to listen when you speak?  Then, show them how by listening to them.  Want them to ask politely for things?  Then you do the same.  Want them to share their feelings with you?  Model that it’s okay by sharing (age-appropriate) examples with them.  Want them to have a positive, enthusiastic approach to life?  Don’t act like they can’t handle the little issues that crop up in their life. Want them to value their relationship with you once they have families of their own?  Pay attention to how you interact with your parents now.
  5. Treat them as their best selves.  Have faith in them.  Believe in their ability to live well.  Show them you have confidence in their decisions.  And DO NOT ever, ever, ever say “I TOLD YOU…”  Yes, they will make mistakes. Just like you did.  Be the one they can come to when those storms crop up.  Be the parent they know will have their back and will treat their heart gently.

The main message here is that you never stop being a parent and you never stop having unbelievable power over how you kids feel about life and about themselves.  Handle with care.