As a divorced parent, you can never pay too much attention to your communication skills with your children. It keeps the doors open to a healthier, more positive relationship with them. It makes you more sensitive to issues of concern early on so you can nip them in the bud. It encourages your children to talk about what they are feeling, questions they have and situations that are creating conflict for them.
Don't sit down and say "let's talk." Find comfortable times and places where conversation can flow naturally and easily. Then bring up related subjects in a casual way. Watching TV or movies at home can often be a catalyst for valuable conversation. Driving in the car together can also be a time of discussion, questions and sharing feelings.
Here are some tips that can help you ease into more productive communication with your kids.
• Ask the right questions." Asking "why" can be intimidating and close off your conversation. Instead, ask "what happened" questions to keep the dialogue open. Then move into talking about feelings, which provide insights into what's really going on with your child. Validate their right to their feelings, even if you're uncomfortable hearing about them. When they feel safe in expressing their emotions, you'll get real clues as to how your divorce is affecting them -- and whether there are changes taking place worthy of your special attention.
• Be patient. Don't react or respond until you get the full message. Sometimes it takes some meandering for your child to reach the crucial point of what they want to say. Don't coax it out of them or shut them off too soon.
• Remember that preaching, moralizing or "parenting" comments can put up barriers to clear communication. Listening is your most valuable skill and tool. Then paraphrase back what you're hearing to make sure you are getting it right. "So you were annoyed at dad for forgetting to call you last night," is far different from saying, "I don't blame you for being angry at dad. He's so undependable."
• Watch your judgments and put-downs, even with upsetting information. Don't belittle your children, call them names or insult their behaviors. Talk to them -- not at them! The difference is felt as respect. Be careful never to put down or disrespect your child's other parent in your conversations, as tempting as that may be at times. Keep your kids out of the divorce drama as much as possible. That's when real emotional damage is done.
• Acknowledge your children for coming to you or sharing with you. Praise their braveness. If you were at fault, apologize honestly and discuss how you can make changes for the future. Sometimes post-divorce parent-child communication can be a very slow process as you rebuild trust and a sense of security within them.
• Show that you accept and love them -- even when their behaviors are not acceptable. Then help them come up with some acceptable solutions they can understand and feel good about. Support and positive role modeling go a long way toward influencing your children in the right direction.
Put yourself in your child's place and you will likely make wiser decisions when it comes to talking about sensitive areas in their life. Afraid to talk about touchy subjects? Get some help from a counselor. Good parents know it's essential to talk to your children and be there for them when they need you -- especially when they're reluctant to start the conversation. Don't let them down!