Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
“My daughter seems to be sad and anxious. She’s missing the bus on purpose, claiming to be ill, and even asking to be homeschooled. I think she may be pulling away from friends. But when I ask her, she says she’s fine. What do I do?”
Many parents may be hearing the same things from their children. And this is an unfortunate fallout from the last year.
Not everyone is excited to return to “normal.” Shy kids, especially, may have sunk further into their own bubbles.
But this isn’t just a problem for the 2020/2021 year, though it may feel even worse now. These are timeless challenges families face, but they can be handled with love and compassion.
Whether your child is having issues with their friends or something else, entirely, you need to establish trust as well as clear and effective communication.
If your child is pulling away from friends, here are 5 steps to take to find out what’s really going on.
1. Stay in the conversation.
It’s easy to be rebuffed by your child and then give up. By surrendering the conversation, you’re leaving your child without critical guidance.
Start by finding a consistent time or a positive place to talk. Break up the routine. Spend time with your child one-on-one without siblings and give your child the space to hear that you care and that you’re worried.
The time together will help your child feel comfortable opening up to you.
2. Empathize with them.
Information is power. Often as parents, it’s difficult not to react to what your child says. You’ve probably launched right into blame, punishment, advice, and, the, “I told you so.”
No matter what your child says — they skipped school, avoided lunch, or broke the coffee table — let go of the desire to jump in and react.
Take a moment to breathe, and then listen. The larger goal is to gain your child’s trust and is more important than any minor rule infraction.
Taking a moment to step back will help your child know that he can always feel comfortable coming to you.
3. Reflect, clarify, and be curious.
Paraphrasing what your child says and then repeating it back to them shows empathy and helps you clarify their concerns.
For example, they might declare that “People should invite me to play. I shouldn’t have to approach them.”
“Reflect” this statement back to them: “What I hear you are saying is that you won’t approach anyone; they must come to you.”
By summarizing and repeating their statements, you allow your child to clarify, share more information, and tell their interpretation of the statement.
By being curious and trying to understand his perspective you invite him to be comfortable opening up to you.
4. Don’t impose your goals.
Ask your child questions and listen. Don’t assume you know the reasons for your child’s behavior. Don’t apply pressure and impose your own goals and agenda on the situation.
Getting your child to feel comfortable talking to you is about hearing and waiting and showing confidence that your child has the capacity to learn and grow.
5. Partner together and problem solve.
Like adults, children share more when they feel heard and understood. They can put their guard down, engage more readily in the coaching process, commit to developing their social skills, and invest in their success.
When you allow for more of a two-way conversation, your child will be more comfortable opening up.
Having a calm, open conversation in the heat of the moment allows your child to know that in the future, they can count on you as a partner rather than a judge.
Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at carolinemaguireauthor.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.