The makings of a positive friendship

CHILDREN | 31 JUL 2019

Walking and Talking – A Guide to Getting Your Child to Talk to You

We are blessed to live in a beautiful part of the world where the weather is very amenable to being outside! With a beach nearby we often go here to clear our heads and feel invigorated through the senses with the sounds of the waves, colourful sunsets, warm sand between the toes, and the smell of the salty sea.

When my children were younger I spent so many happy days tiring them out running in the sand and swimming. Our appetites were stimulated and after warm showers our fed, clean bodies were ready for rest…sometimes sleep if I was lucky!

In mid primary school our beautiful Labrador came to live with us. She needs walking everyday, she also loves to socialise and swim…perfect! With her encouragement we started walking each afternoon on the beach.

Children can have all sorts of challenges at school and many matching moods when they get home.

What we soon discovered is after some food and a few minutes walking on the beach conversation started to flow. Whatever was bothering them, whatever they where thinking or feeling and whatever challenges they faced good or bad, all came pouring out. Links were made between what they had experienced, how it was affecting them and how they were processing these experiences of the world and themselves. You could see stuck perspectives and worries move and moods improve. But the best part was connecting, feeling grateful for each other and how lucky we are to have such a wonderful place that helps us reflect and observe. We would talk about friendships, classes they enjoyed, subjects they were fascinated in, and what they were looking forward to. I would share my day telling them what I was doing (kids like to hear about what we are doing too). I’d also share experiences from my own childhood and tell them stories of family and friends.

Don’t get me wrong there were days of yelling and anger, “everything is terrible”, arguments, sulkiness and refusal. But it was rare we would leave without feeling happy, speaking nicely and feeling capable.

Often boys find it difficult to share what is going on in their worlds. By walking, and not having to sit and look at someone while talking, they have an opportunity to say whatever comes to mind.

It is important to discuss what is going on in their social worlds especially when there is conflict. It is also helpful to find out what video games they are playing, who they are playing with, and their other online worlds. It is a way to get information without asking too many questions, without showing too much emotion or trying to fix the problem, and what you will find is they will listen to your advice and seek it because they feel heard.

Walking gives an opportunity to observe the coming and going of physiological reactions in the body and fixated thoughts. It gives us the opportunity to teach our children this process of observation early in life and sets them up with a full body memory of what can help when they face difficulties. Moving the body is part of being well, we all know the saying “strong body, strong mind”. Another oldie but goodie is “killing two birds with one stone”- teaching our children to communicate, share, know themselves, and bond whilst exercising is helping them to understand the importance of whole body well-being, everything is linked.

Communicating well with your child helps you improve your bond and encourages them to listen to you.

The following are some strategies to get them talking:

  • Set aside time for talking and listening to each other
  • Respond in a sensitive way to all kinds of things- including anger, embarrassment, sadness and fear. Children can resist telling us things in fear of being patronised or we will overact
  • Focus on body language and tones as well as words so you can really understand what they are saying. Respond to non-verbal language as well, “You seem very quiet today, what are you thinking?”
  • Give encouragement and positive feedback to get them talking – even if they need to yell to get it out
  • Work together to solve problems. Come up with different ways to address things that might be worrying them. Go through options and alternatives and check for understanding
  • Praising them when they tell the truth. Teach the importance of telling the truth through encouragement and support.
  • Ask your child how they feel about things they share. Build on what your child tells you by showing interest by saying things like “Can you tell me more…” “What happened next?” Use open-ended questions
  • Empathise with them by showing you understand what they are going through. For example, “that would have been horrible for you, I would have been upset by that too”. Acknowledging and valuing your child’s feelings is a powerful way to connect.
  • Practice reflective listening. Check you have heard correctly and understanding by repeating back what they have said. “It sounds like when Harry said you couldn’t play with him you felt very hurt and sad”
  • Don’t jump in- wait and let them finish talking. This way you are modelling good listening skills, the key to good communication.
  • Be mindful of your own body language and tone- kids shut down if your reactions are too much. Use a calm and neutral voice, you can be a mirror for them to deescalate and calm. This will give them a chance to calm their bodies and think more clearly
  • Start early – communication skills are built in infancy and toddlerhood- this will set you up for teenage years!

It is our job to sort though and process the things that happen to our children during the day. By sharing our own days it shows how we all need to do this for the rest of our lives, and we need lots of practice to get good at it! Even as they get bigger you are still needed for emotional support and you will find other places to adapt this time for talking into changing routines. For example, the car is another great place to talk to kids where they don’t have to make eye contact with you.

Talking nurtures acceptance of your child’s feelings, thoughts and experiences so that they feel loved. Remember we are continually modelling to our kids how to act and behave. The more we can do these things regularly, the better.

Janine Lord

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