Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are buried). We knew from past experiences anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad. We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said. He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting. He felt that he would say something and his brother would attack him, call him names, and making him feel bad about himself. He didn’t like how his brother was treating him, which is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got my older son out of his room and spent some time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My younger son and I sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one another. When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I never had these types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?

At the Crossroads of Raising an Independent Child

Are you trying to raise an independent child?

I am. I was raised to be independent, it was a conscious decision on my parents part. They were involved in my life — they taught me manners, how to be safe, led groups I participated in, they advocated when they needed to for me, came to every recital, game or event we were participating in and cheered me on — all while teaching me to be independent. I was taught how to take care of my space, learning how to set the table, clean-up (table, room, house), vacuum and wash clothes. I was taught how to earn money, encouraged to get a job when I turned 16. They encouraged me to play sports, music, etc. and try new things. They gave me the skills I needed to go out into the world on my own.

I have always taught my kids about safety, though I’m always unsure how effective what I’ve taught them will be (I hope it will be sufficient); I’ve taught them manners (which we are still working on); and my kids have responsibilities around the house, and are encouraged by us to try new things, but know there are still many my skills my husband and I need to teach our kids.

As I’ve previously shared, my oldest is in middle school and is still adjusting to all the changes that have occurred. We got him a flip phone (his first phone) when he started school so he can stay in touch with us so we know he’s gotten to school or is on his way home. The flip phone was chosen because of the limited capability it has. It was a conscious decision on our part. My son first started with only texting me as we had discussed — when he got to school and we he was on his way home. Then he started adding a phone call into the mix. Or two. Or three. He doesn’t seem to understand mom has a job and can’t always grab the phone right away (though he does know I’ll call him back as soon as I can). And while I love the fact that my son wants to talk to me — whether he’s calling to tell me about his day or a struggle he had, I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Almost like a mother bird that has pushed her son out of the nest only to let her baby bird come back onto the ledge of the nest to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my son. I am so grateful he wants to call me and talk, but I wonder if I’m delaying his ability to be independent. I did not have a phone when I went to school. I had to figure out how to get where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I only called my mom or dad when there was an emergency (I can remember this happened once in high school when my car had a problem and I needed my dad’s help to figure out where to get the car towed to). I remember not wanting to bother my dad at work, but couldn’t think of any other way to handle the situation. My dad was grateful I called, but that only happened once. In reflection, I feel like my parents had pushed me out of the nest — it wasn’t a ‘don’t come back’, it was a ‘you’ve got this, don’t like us hold you back.’ I don’t want to hold my son back. I want him to have confidence in his ability to navigate situations and feel empowered to do so.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am aware that my husband and I need to be thinking about how we are helping our children be independent — successful on their own. Of course I don’t want my child to pull away from me, but I believe this is a necessary for them to truly grow.

Thankfully I have time, but I’m at a crossroads, and hoping I pick the right path.

How are you helping your child be independent?