I’ve often found myself talking to my husband about our children like they were aliens from another planet, different from any other child on earth; and someone that no one in the world would understand, accept me. It’s very easy for parents to fool themselves into thinking that their children are so unique that the regular pathways won’t work for them. We somehow convince ourselves that they need something ‘extra special’ to help them overcome challenges.
I promise you, not so.
You can research far and wide, spend a ton of money, and turn yourself inside out looking for that special something when it really doesn’t exist.
What does exist is the basics. The basics work when we work them, consistently.
And as disappointing as it might sound, there is no magic bullet when it comes to parenting tweens and teens. There are, however, universal laws that bring out the best in all human beings, including our kids. The most powerful of all parenting basics, and the focus of this blog, is the art of creating high-quality conversations.
I have had many poor-quality conversations with my children. They usually happen when one of us is tired or fed up. They often start late at night, and end in tears or frustration. They rarely lead to anywhere positive, and usually revisit unresolved tensions. Poor quality conversations take time to repair, and simply put, erode resilience.
I have also had many high-quality conversations with my children. Sometimes they surprise me, and I find myself saying, “Thank goodness, that went well!” High-quality conversations ‘feel’ right. They flow. Everyone leaves feeling understood and acknowledged. They are sprinkled with laughs, common ground, patience and a little magic of which we are going to explore below.
It’s important to know that high-quality conversations aren’t just reserved for the easy topics. But if you can have a high-quality conversation about burgers, you are more likely to have a high-quality conversation about friendship issues. Low risk, high-quality conversations make subsequent higher-risk conversations more likely to succeed. They establish a pathway that is familiar and easy to come back to.
These four characteristics of high-quality conversations are worth striving towards during every conversation we have with our kids, even the tricky ones.
High quality conversations have JOY
Think about it practically. You don’t go back to people, places or things you don’t enjoy. When was the last time you returned to a restaurant that had lousy service or bad food? If your conversations revolve around disagreements, or modifying behaviour, without any spark of humour or fun, your kids will be on a one way train out of there.
Instead, apply the 80-20 rule. 80% of your conversations should be enjoyable, even if that means parking your parental frustrations. Yes, ignoring poor behaviour is a deliberate strategy that parents can use to improve connection. Try swapping correcting time for connecting time. Be conscious to only use 20% of your communication time for instructions, direct requests and corrections.
High quality conversations have CALM
The very first step to solving any problem is mastering the fight or flight drive. Only from a place of calm can our children best access their problem-solving brain. Calm helps our children plug in internally so they can then plug into the world around them. It even helps them plug into us! Once our children’s brains are wired for problem solving, our words will carry a lot more weight. A moment of stillness, a gentle hug, a deliberate nod, a moment in peaceful acknowledgement or a reassuring voice all communicate, “It’s okay. You are okay. Everything is okay.”
High quality conversations have ACTION
Something truly remarkable happens when conversations are backdropped by an enjoyable activity. Recently a mother sent me a photo of her children sorting Lego with the caption “It’s amazing what kids talk about while sorting Lego.” If you are struggling to communicate with your tween or teen, I have one foolproof answer. Find an activity you both enjoy and do it together regularly. Make a ritual out of it. That way there is a time and space where they know you are accessible to them. If you are consistent, I promise that conversations that need to happen will happen.
If you desire conversation with a child, spend time with them. Let the rest flow. Trust the words will follow at the right time. There is a certain flow that comes with high quality conversations that are hard to manufacture. No one likes to feel interviewed, or interrogated. Too many questions, and too much words, push children’s hearts away.
High quality conversations have a little MAGIC
Amongst the chaos of family life, we are often forced into conversations at times when we are at our lowest. I wonder if there is a way of capturing your enthusiasm and love for your child in your ‘best self’ moment? Recording a voice memo, writing a note or drawing an illustration, or phoning or texting may be a way of seizing the moment. Communication can come in many forms and sometimes it’s the unexpected that gives conversations that little extra zing! If communication with your tween or teen is getting a little boring, try changing it up. Introducing a shared journal, question box, different communication routine or “Mum’s note of the day”.
When you strip it all back, without connection we have no influence. Influence is the thing that enables us to parent well. It is so worth investing into creating and maintaining high-quality conversations with our children. They take time. They take creativity. But they are well worth the effort.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.