This is a real question asked by a dad in one of my parenting classes.
My short answer is…you don’t.
We can’t make our kids come to us with their problems, big or small. But…we can create an environment where they feel comfortable coming to us with a struggle.
How can we do this? We start small, we start young. (Although God can make up time in the air. So… even if your kids are older it isn’t too late).
Here are 7 ways to get your kids to tell you their problems:
1. When a small thing occurs like spilled milk… say, “That’s okay everybody spills I’ll help you clean it up.” (Click here for a related post)
The message given is: Mistakes are no big deal, Mom and Dad can manage a spill without going crazy, everyone spills sometime, my parents will help me when I mess up.
2. When your child shares some emotional pain listen. Say, “That hurts. I had something like that happen to me when I was your age as well.”
The message conveyed is: My parents get it, they care about me.
3. When your child tells you something in confidence…keep it confidential. Ask for permission to enter into the solution or to get help (this does not apply to physical harm, abuse, suicide threats, etc).
The message communicated is: My parents are loyal. They are safe people with whom to share things.
4. When you make plans with and promises to your kids, follow through.
The message imparted is: My parents honor their word. My parents are worthy of my trust. I am important.
5. Avoid comparing your children. Comparison leads to competition. Competition among siblings has no place in the family. If the child feels as if he doesn’t measure up like his sister or brother does he will never tell you when he struggles.
The message received is: It’s okay and even good to be unique in this family. We complement each other.
6. Don’t expect perfection. Kids are imperfect beings, just as parents are. No one is great at everything. Share a struggle you may have.
The message spoken is: It’s okay to be imperfect. Everyone struggles with something. My parents understand me.
7. Let your children express their opinions and thoughts even if they are different from yours. Leave room for respectful dialogue.
The message delivered is: My parents are not threatened by my opinions. We can disagree and discuss respectfully.
When our homes our built on respect, empathy, understanding, loyalty, trust, humility, grace, and unconditional love we create an atmosphere where our children will share their struggles both big and small. We can’t make them tell us their problems –we can do something better– we can foster a relationship where they want to tell us about their lives, including their struggles and successes.
What do you do to make your home a safe place to share life?
To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.
By Lori Wildenberg
Wife to Tom
Mom of 4 (plus a daughter-in-love)
Co-founder of 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting
Co-author of 3 parenting books
Lori is available for parent consulting, speaking,
retreats, and parenting seminars.