Will Our Children Listen to Us?
Many parents are worried that they can’t teach their children about sex because they think their children won’t listen. They read parenting advice on line and feel overwhelmed by all the topics one could cover in sex education. They know they don’t have all the knowledge and they think if they can’t answer every question there is no point in starting conversations. The truth is that our children listen more than we think they do and that we can’t know everything.
My kids came from foster care and not all of the siblings were placed together. I was a new mother at 44 and I wasn’t sure whether my daughter would
listen to me either. I had talked with her a lot about how to get along (I think I lectured a lot at that time) and it didn’t seem to have sunk in. One day I overheard her talking to one of her sisters on the phone who lived with a different family. I was astonished to hear her giving her sister advice that was almost word-for-word what I had been telling her. She had listened, even while deciding not to take those steps herself all the time!
How we effectively talk and how listen are skills to be learned for almost every parent. Many of us never take a breath to ask our children what they think or feel about certain topics. If a child rejects the topic, especially around sex, then parents might resort to avoidance, nonverbals that control the conversation, or other communication killers like commanding, instructing, judging, or even shaming. These approaches like them are guaranteed to kill meaningful conversations with anyone.
When working with parents there are three main skills we focus on to become a more effective parent. First is on non-verbal behaviors. Nonverbals include things like tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, and even physically speaking down to children. Children also pay attention to whether our words match our expressions and vocal tone. Checking out your nonverbals is a way to see if you invite or shut down conversations with your children.
Second, we examine common roadblocks like criticizing, shaming, commanding, disappearing, teasing, and comparing. Many people learned these things from their own parents and may not be aware they are doing them or are upset when they recognize they are doing to their children what they swore they would never do. Tough topics like sex can bring out many of these killers. By recognizing the ones parents use, they can learn to replace them with effective strategies.
Third are listening skills. When our kids talk with us we may switch into problem-solving mode or making everything go away mode. One mom recently was telling me a story about her daughter making the statement that penises were weird. The mom immediately jumped to telling her daughter that vaginas could be weird too and giving her opinion about genitals. I ask her if she had considered finding out why her daughter thought what she did. Parents can show curiosity for their children pronouncements and learn far more about their child’s thinking if they slow down, ask questions, and listen.
I believe all parents can use help to develop better communication skills that will make talking with their kids about topics like sex much easier. We at Project Parent have developed parent training to assist parents, as well as a Facebook parenting community to get support and information. Join us and you will experience the joy of listening to your child and having them listen to you.