Students frequently say that is hard to talk to parents. Parents say it’s hard to talk to their kids. It is a hard thing, but sometimes just creating the space or asking the right question can help a child open up to you, often sharing something they may never have told anyone. Below are some tips to help create some space to facilitate communication.
- Don’t try to fix it—listen and ask questions that lead the student to solving the problem themselves.
- Be careful with advice—many children want you to fix their problem or tell them what to do. DON’T! It deprives them of the learning opportunity to wrestle with a dilemma. Plus, if your suggestion doesn’t work, they’ll have you to blame.
- Don’t judge. If a student has decided to share something personal with you, gratefully accept it (unless there is a safety issue). Telling them what they should feel or think will reduce the chance they’ll continue to confide in you. They more they feel they can share with you; a bigger part of the lives you can be.
- Ask if you’re unsure. “Do you want help fixing this or just need someone to listen?” You’d be surprised how many times they just want an ear—not a fix.
- Monitor yourself. Did your reaction show your disapproval of what they just said? Did it tell them how uncomfortable you are? A surprised look, grimace or inappropriate smile can shut down a conversation as quick as anything. You can never go wrong with a neutral, but interested expression.
- Don’t give tissues to a crying child. This may sound cold, but pushing tissues on them says, “I’m not comfortable with this and I’d like you to stop.” Have tissues available on your desk easily available for the taking. More on the benefits of crying later.
- Talk less and listen more—Be very comfortable with silence and waiting.
“It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” ― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
Remember, you may be the only person they feel like they can approach to share their most personal fears and hopes. What a privilege and honor!