Editor’s note: Abraham began by sharing his personal experiences on how his parents created a safe environment for him to communicate openly with them. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. In this post, Abraham shares his thoughts on what parents can do after their children open up to them.
Creating the right environment for a child to share is just half the battle! What happens when they do share will determine how likely they are to come back and share again.
Consistency is key: listen to the small stuff
Parents are understandably concerned about their children confiding in them the important stuff. However, there’s going to be a lot of small stuff that children are going to want to share. They might seem inconsequential to parents, but unless it’s heard out, children are less likely to share the more important stuff. Many children share enthusiastically, and matching their enthusiasm when listening will communicate to the child a genuine interest in what they are saying. Further, in the sharing exercise encouraged above, it is important that the parents take everything that the child shares seriously, and act on what the child shares about. The key here is getting the child to recognise that their parents understand what they are going through and are both willing and able to help them with whatever difficulties they encounter.
Ask the difficult questions
Creating a safe environment and consistently listening to a child does not guarantee that they will take the initiative to share everything that they experience. Usually the things that parents are most concerned about are the things that children would find harder to share. Hence, it is important for parents to ask questions, even when they may not always want to know the answer to the questions or feel comfortable discussing it. There are a relatively standard set of problems and experiences that children have to grapple with, and parents will do well to bring up and discuss these issues with their children. It is easier for a child to remain silent about something than to lie about it to their parents when they are asked. Hence, asking the difficult questions could provide the child with the opportunity they need to share.
And in closing, here are two things I hope parents will remember when it comes to getting children to share their hearts:
a. Communication strategies will differ with each child
There is a question about how passive or proactive parents should be when it comes to getting their children to share. From the experience of my family, I would say it heavily depends on the child. Some of my siblings are always ready to confide in my parents. For me, the tendency is to keep things to myself. Hence, my parents need to prod me a little more to get me to share. Yet, at the same time, they have always given me space to share as much as I am comfortable with. How to get a child to share would depend very much on that individual child. Parents’ knowledge of their child is critical to know the extent to which they should push their child to share with them.
b. Sharing should not come at the expense of discipline
Finally, I think it is important to be careful of prioritizing getting children to confide in their parents over other parenting responsibilities, especially discipline. There could be a tendency to withhold discipline in the name of ensuring that children do not feel ‘judged’. Going back to the Cosby episode I described in my first post, the children reveal that one of the reasons that they would go to a friend ahead of their parents is because their parents would get angry. While acknowledging that he would get angry, Bill tells his children that he would still hope that they come to their parents because nobody can care for them with the love that he has for his children. In fact, part of this love is demonstrated in discipline. This is of course with the assumption that parents disciplines the child, not out of retribution, but for that child’s good. No discipline I experienced was pleasant at that time, but looking back, I am glad that my parents did not ‘let me off’ just so that I would confide in them more. Instead, as I grew and realised why my parents disciplined me, I was able to trust them more.
At the end of the day, children, myself included, do not always react rationally to situations they face. This means that although parents create the safest surroundings and do everything to encourage their children to confide in them, the child may not always do so. It could be that the child values the relationship with their parents so much that they do not want to risk it being affected by sharing their problems. In such cases, there is little that parents can do except to continue to affirm their love for their children in every situation. When this is done, it is just a matter of time before the child recognises the depth of their parents’ love and confides in them.
Abraham is an undergraduate who dreamed of playing professional football when he was 5 (and actually still does). While his love for football occupies a large part of his heart, the remaining portion is shared between his passion for photographing the wonders of God’s creation and love for his family.