It's no secret that one of the biggest challenges a parent faces after divorce is communicating with your children. All parents struggle with communication issues as their children grow, but children who have had their lives dramatically altered by separation or divorce need even more attention and diligent observation by their parents.
Children tend not to tell you when they are angry, resentful, confused, hurt or depressed. Instead, they reflect their problems through their behavior -- acting out or perhaps turning inward in ways that you have not experienced prior to the divorce.
Here are some tips on ways to encourage positive and productive communication between you and your children. Many of these are obvious or innate behaviors. Some can easily be forgotten amid the challenges you are juggling in your own life on a daily basis.
Take time to see the world through your children's eyes and you will be better able to meet their needs, understand their confusion or aggression and find appropriate ways to dissolve tension through your conversation and caring behaviors.
- Be available and attentive when your child comes to you to talk or ask questions. That means turning off the TV, putting down the newspaper, not answering the phone and giving them eye-contact and a welcoming smile. Sometimes attempting to talk to you is the result of considerable thought and risk on their part. Encourage these conversations when they happen.
- It is helpful to sit, kneel or in other ways get down closer to your child's level when you talk. Towering over them is a form of intimidation that does not translate into safety or trust.
- Keep your conversations private unless they want to include others. Let them know they are safe in confiding to you and that you are interested and care about matters that concern them.
- Don't dismiss a subject lightly if it is one bothering your child. Laughing, joking or teasing will create alienation that ultimately will discourage your child from sharing what is bothering them. This is a dangerous road to travel, especially as your children develop into their teen years.
- Equally important is to never embarrass your children or put them on the spot in front of others. This will immediately close the door to honest, trustworthy communication.
- Avoid talking to your child when you are angry or upset with them or others. Promise to talk in a half-hour or hour at a specific place after you've had a chance to settle down and regain your objectivity.
- Be an active listener. Don't interrupt while your child is talking. Listen carefully and then paraphrase back what you heard them say. Ask if you're right in your interpretation. They'll tell you. This give-and-take will help you understand what is really at issue.
- Children who feel safe talking to their parents grow up as better communicators overall. They will be more likely to have healthy communication in their own adult relationships, with their spouses and children.
Families that keep feelings repressed and don't discuss issues that come up send the message that it's not all right to talk about things that bother us. The consequences of this can be seen in our nightly news headlines every day.
You can open the doors to caring communication in your home by starting today. Your children may be a little resistant at first as they test the waters, but they will surely appreciate this opportunity once they know you are sincere. Start the process yourself and see how valuable it is to hear what your children have to say.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, coaching services and valuable resources on divorce and parenting, go to childcentereddivorce.com.