Kid Connection Tip: Back Off and Get Closer

Posted May 7, 2015 by jimhigley

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Dear Parents,

I’ve discovered the fastest road to having great way better than average communications and connections with your kids. It’s a discovery that took over a dozen years of parenting missteps and flops.

And the best part? My discovery doesn’t require you to start anything new.

Zippo. Nada.

What it requires is that you stop doing something. Today.

Stop jumping in and fixing everything. This is an important rule at any age – whether you have a toddler, a ten-year-old or a teen. For many of us (myself included!) this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Or not do.

I learned this when my daughter was a teen. A teen going through some rough spots with friends. And like most teens, she didn’t want to talk about it. So I did what I had done for years. I asked a lot of questions. I hovered. I prodded. I kept digging away at what I thought I knew was going on because I was determined to help. Make things better.

And get her out of a really crummy situation.

But as you may suspect, my pushing and prying only made things worse. She bottled up. Then I got frustrated. So I’d try other annoying-dad things. Relentlessly.

Nothing worked. Until. I tried a new tactic – at the recommendation of a friend.

It was a day I will never forget. She had locked herself in her room. Again. Sulking. So I went in and joined her. But this time I didn’t start by asking a ton of questions or give her a number of solutions. I just layed on the floor and stared at the ceiling. Saying nothing. For minutes.

Until she broke the silence.

“My friends stink,” she said.

I waited. It killed me to wait. And then I replied with the most important words.

“That must hurt,” I said.

It was silent for over a minute. Sixty seconds that killed me because I felt inadequate as her father. Incapable of handing her a solution on a silver platter. Not able to make her life happy.

Then she spoke.

And without prodding, she told me everything. Every detail. Every hurt. Every fear. Everything. And the only thing I kept saying – in a variety of ways – was, “that must hurt.”

And things soon got better. Better not only with her friends. But better between the two of us.

*

That day taught me the most important lesson about parenting ever.

It taught me the value of not solving everything. It taught me the value of showing empathy to our children. And it taught me the importance of listening to them. A lot. Listening far more than talking lecturing.

When we do that – stop doing what many of our instincts tell us to do – we give our children tools for handling life’s speed bumps and hiccups. We provide them a safe environment to make mistakes and figure out how to work through them.

But the best thing? We gain their trust.

And trust is the smoothest road to great connections.

*

This memory is part of a series of stories I’m sharing during the months of May and June – highlighting the importance of connecting with our children. These memories are brought to you by the wonderful folks at Kimberly-Clark who have compensated me for my writing. All opinions are my own. 

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