Dear Dr Justin,
"My husband and my 9 year-old son are constantly fighting. It’s little niggles here and there. But it is non stop. They are constantly talking past each other and he (my husband) has started getting really angry. How can we make things better between them?"
I have seven steps to really listen to your child that I think may be helpful for you. However, before we get there, let me share a few other things that may be helpful:
First, boys tend to be most willing to talk with us while participating in an activity – or just after one. Boys talk “side-by-side” while girls talk “face-to-face”. So I’m going to suggest that dad take some time out of life and spend it in activities with your son. Give up the Saturday game of golf, and get outside with his son. Put the screens away and ride a bike, go fishing, kick a ball, or doing something else that’s active. These are the opportunities for talking.
There are only 936 Saturdays in your child’s life before he turns 18. If he’s already 9, you’re past halfway. It’s time to invest in the relationship.
Second, get your husband to focus on your son’s positives and strengths every day for a week. No negative talk. Yes, there will be stressful moments, but manage them by letting them go. Your husband should talk to his son about what characteristics he sees in him that are admirable. Focusing on (and communicating about) strengths is powerful!
Third, let’s get really clear on how to truly listen to our kids. We don’t want to shut them down. We don’t want to turn them away. We want to turn towards them and see the world through their eyes.
Here are my 7 ways to really listen so your child shares more
- Begin with the end in mind. When your child wants (or needs) to talk, decide at the start what you want them to remember. Do you want them to remember your kindness and compassion? Do you want them to remember your listening ear? Unconditional love is shown by giving complete and unconditional focus.
- Minimise distractions . Stop, look, and listen. Stop doing anything else. Put screens away. Be still. Look into his eyes. Your child won’t be able to focus on you if you are a moving target. When they invite you into their lives, they want all of you.
- Be open to connection . You might say, “I really want to hear what’s on your mind. Tell me what you’re thinking.” This ensures you send a signal that you’re ready to listen.
- Have soft eyes . An elderly grandmother told me it was her favourite parenting advice. When she softened her eyes towards her children she noticed her voice softened, her posture opened, her words became more compassionate, and she stopped hurrying. Soften your tone, your posture, your words, and your timetable by seeing them through loving eyes.
- Channel your ideal parent. Think about the best parent you know and listen the way they would to their child – or to you. Think how precious this child is (normally) to you. This will help your child feel like their thoughts, experiences, and opinions matter.
- Aim to build. Regardless of whether your child has done something wrong, find something right and positive. Express appreciation.
- Be flexible. Sometimes there’s noise or other interruptions at home. Be willing to go for a walk (and take the dog for the exercise and companionship), grab some wedges and sour cream from the café, or do something together (plant something, water the garden, wash the car). Doing encourages talking.
Challenging emotions and behaviours can ruin relationships or become opportunities to connect and strengthen family ties and increase feelings of safety. At the moment your son is driving your husband bonkers. That happens sometimes. These tips will help strengthen that relationship and promote some positive conversations.
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