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By Jill Hope

Think about this for a minute….how REAL are you with your kids? Do you share with them how you are feeling, what is going on in your life, or challenges you experienced growing up? Are you honest with them when you don’t have the answers? Do you give them the space to share their deep wisdom with you?

If not, you’re really missing a big opportunity with your kids, and you may want to look at why you might be holding back.

Is it because you don’t think your child can handle it? Or maybe you think you need to project a certain “pulled together, mom knows all” persona? Or maybe you have a belief that parents aren’t supposed to share personal information with their kids?

Here’s the thing. Every parenting expert or parent who has raised a teen that I’ve ever spoken with has always maintained that one of the most important things a parent can do as their child goes through the teen years on their way to adulthood is this:

Create an environment of open communication between parent and child

If you don’t share your feelings with your kids, you can be missing out on an important opportunity that can allow you the chance to create a true environment of authentic communication with your kids.

Now you might be thinking that if you share how you are feeling, doesn’t that run the risk that you become the child and you put your child in the position of being the parent? It can, but there is a big difference between “dumping” on your kids and sharing a true feeling with them.

Dumping on your kids looks like complaining and being a victim. Sharing feelings and experiences with your kids looks like a parent who trusts their child enough to share the truth, knows that in showing their feelings, they are modeling emotional intelligence, and doesn’t put the child in the position of “fixing” the problem for the parent but rather uses it as a means of being true and creating a bridge of understanding between two people.

So, what is the risk of not being real with your kids?

– Your child might not feel comfortable opening up to you when he or she has a problem
– Your child may feel a lack of trust between you
– Your child may sense an incongruency between what you are projecting and who you really are, and they could
create a belief as a result that they too shouldn’t project their true selves to others
– Your child may know you are keeping something from them (because you are) and may tell themselves a story about
this (and it isn’t always a good one)
– You may never establish a true emotional connection with them and as a result, they may not learn how to establish
an emotional connection with anyone else.

So, how can we avoid these risks and create an environment where real communication can happen with your kids?

If you are experiencing a challenge with an aspect of your life that is preventing you from being the parent you want to be, share that with your child. Chances are, if this is your situation, your kids are picking up on the fact that something is wrong. In sharing with them, you don’t have to share the details of the problem, but just sharing that you are struggling with something and describing how you are feeling and what you are doing to resolve it will show your kids that you trust them, that the problem has nothing to do with them, and that you are taking positive steps to resolve the issue.

When you make a mistake with your child, admit it and apologize. About a week or so ago, my son asked me a question that for some reason really annoyed me. I responded to him in not a very thoughtful or conscious way, but instead I sounded annoyed and impatient. He got quite upset, because he couldn’t see how his question could have garnered this response from me. My reaction confused him.

When I took a step back to determine why I felt the way I did, I realized I was responding based on something that had happened in the past when I had said yes to him and it didn’t go the way I had wanted it to. The problem with my response is that this is a new time, my son is constantly growing and learning, and yet, I was responding from the old place and time. When I had this realization, I went to my son, apologized for my response, told him why I responded the way I did, and told him I would reconsider his request from this present space we were in.

This admittance allowed my son to understand me in a new way, kept him from creating a negative story about himself to explain why I responded the way I did, and showed him that sometimes people do respond based on past experience, and that it is not necessarily a good thing. We created a new understanding between us that day, and our relationship has grown deeper as a result.

If you don’t have all the answers, don’t act like you do. Instead, use it as a learning opportunity for all involved. With our kids, we never want to admit that we don’t have all the answers. But the fact is, there are no all-encompassing parenting books out there that tell us how to navigate every situation we find ourselves in. If something happens and you don’t have the answer, that is okay! And it is okay to admit this to your kids! In fact, this is a great opportunity to creating a learning experience for your child.

Not long ago, I was teaching a lesson in my wellness curriculum to a classroom of 8 year olds. We were doing an activity where each child had a puzzle piece and as a class they were tasked with bringing all of their pieces together to create a whole. Well, after about 10 minutes the kids were at an impasse. It was becoming clear that the puzzle was not going to come together during our time together.

I realized in that moment that I did not know what to do or how to help them. Instead of panicking and missing an opportunity, I told the kids that we seemed to be in a bit of a predicament with the puzzle, and I asked them to share what they observed about this challenge.

I heard things like “when it got rough, some kids started saying things that weren’t very nice to other kids” and “some of the kids seemed frustrated and started throwing their puzzle pieces onto the floor” and “we need to remember to still be nice to each other when things aren’t working.”

Then I heard one girl say “when things don’t work out the way you plan them, just relax and go with the flow”.

What beautiful lessons we all learned that day, myself included! By admitting I didn’t know what to do to resolve that situation in the moment and allowing the kids to weigh on with their thoughts, we all learned a valuable lesson about working together successfully.

See how you might bring more realness into your communications with your child. As long as you share in a way that does not have them feeling burdened or responsible for taking care of you and your feelings, you will be creating an open, trusting environment for good communication to grow and flow.