How to win your child’s trust
It’s important for children to feel that they can come to you with anything, and that you’re always available to talk or offer support. But it’s not just about saying that you’re there for them – it’s about taking action and being present. These conversations often come up when you least expect them – like when you’re in the middle of making dinner and your teenager is shoving a mountain of sandwiches into their mouth right before you sit down to eat. Here’s more on how you can build trust and create a positive dialogue with your child.
A summary of this article below.
Talk about what you are going thru
Invite your child to talk about the upcoming changes to their family by sharing a picture from last summer. You can point out that this year will be different, with each parent taking turns spending time with the children. As you talk about what has happened and what is to come, you help your child put together their picture of the family change.
Be aware of your own feelings
In order for children to open up, they need to feel that the atmosphere of the conversation is such that you will not be upset or angry when they tell you something. Of course you will be emotional when you talk about what is difficult. In that case, confirm that it feels difficult, but also talk about how it can be nice to share difficult things with each other. By showing how to handle difficult conversations and emotions, you become a role model.
Acknowledge that you understand
Often it’s good to just listen. Take your child’s feelings seriously and listen without giving advice, explanations, or opinions about how they should feel instead. Put yourself in your child’s situation and convey understanding. Maybe you can try to put the feelings into words yourself by, for example, saying: “When you tell me this, you seem stressed and worried about moving between us, is that right? These kinds of conversations help the child to understand more of what they are feeling and thinking.
The conversation is about your child’s perspective – not your own
You may have your own need to get understanding on how you have acted during the separation, but if the child is angry or accusing, you should avoid going into defense. When you feel like talking about how things really are, bite your tongue. The conversation should not be about the child getting the same picture as you of the divorce, but about you getting to hear how the child experiences it. The temptation to describe things that have happened between you parents can be great, but only tell things that benefit the child.
Let the child finish talking without interrupting. Check that you have understood everything correctly and if you get to share your views on the matter. Feel free to ask follow-up questions that are not simply yes or no, but that instead encourage more storytelling. To show that you are listening, you can hum, nod, or say things like, “And then…?”, “How does that make you feel?”, “What do you think about it?”
Try to understand the feelings behind the words
Do you find it difficult to listen and have a good conversation? You can try focusing on the emotional nuances in what the child is saying. The explanations of how difficult it is to drag the floorball stick and sports clothes between the homes can actually be about being sad about the divorce. If you can catch the feelings behind the words, the conversation can lead to the child feeling understood and confirmed.
Instead of explaining that you all actually have to bite the bullet now that dad has chosen to move, the feeling after the conversation is different. So let your follow-up questions focus on what the child feels: “Does that mean you’re sad and angry that you have to live in two places and fight with everything that comes with it?”
Talk about your coparent
If your child chooses to talk about their other parent, listen without involving your own emotions and opinions. Try to understand together what has happened between them and what feels difficult. When the child tells you about their other parent, they are trusting you. Managing that trust in regards to the other parent is a balancing act between being loyal to the coparent and being loyal to the child. Of course, you would never use such trust as an opportunity to slander, yell, or speak badly about your coparent. You also should not underestimate the child by always being strictly loyal to the parent.
The balancing act can be to validate the child’s feelings, perhaps through your own knowledge of the coparent, without breaking loyalty to your coparent. Instead of suggesting solutions, you can encourage the child to talk to his or her other parent, if you believe it is a viable option. If your coparent has behaved badly, you can ask if you should talk to him or her together. Another possibility is that you bring it up with the coparent. Respect how the child wants us to deal with it.
- When we talk about what has happened and what is to come, we make everyday life understandable for children. We help children understand what is happening and why.
- Be aware of your own emotions: it is difficult for children to talk to an adult who is angry or seems very sad themselves.
- Remember that the main focus of the conversation is the child – not you. Be aware of if your focus ends up on your own emotions or perspectives.
- Think about what complaining about having to drag the hockey stick back and forth is actually about for the child’s feelings.
- Talk about your coparent. Give your child support if they need it, it can be done in different ways.