One thing my husband and I take great pride in is our communication with our teen and preteen. With all the things we've done wrong as parents over the years, I feel somewhere along the way we did something right. At the ages of 12 and 13 we have open lines of communication with Zion and Elle - nothing is off limits, nothing is taboo, nothing is considered too much to share. And believe me, there have been times where my children have said things to me and I actually wondered how in the world they feel so comfortable with giving me this info.
A couple of weekends ago I spent time with my mama for Mother's Day and her birthday she told me how impressed she was that Nandor and I had been able to create such open communication with Zion and Elle. Whenever she pats me on the back for a job well done, I take note because she knows first hand how it is to raise kids and teens, and if I'm being honest, I was a difficult teen to raise.
That conversation got me to thinking.
How did we create such great communication with our kids?
I thought back over the years and realized from the very beginning communication with my kids has been important to me. I can remember when Zion and Elle were toddlers (they are Irish twins so there was only an 11 month span of time I had one without the other) I would always allow them time to talk or explain themselves when they made choices that maybe weren't top notch. For example, if one hit the other, instead of dishing out a discipline or simply saying "NO, WE DON'T HIT!", I would ask them why they chose to hit. As they got older the type of conversations have just changed. Some of these conversations have been intentionally started by my husband and I and others were necessary based on things they had learned from kids at school or simple curiosity. I have seen over the years, our desire to talk with our kids about everything has brought us to a place of open communication during the budding teen years. I have zero experience past the age of 13, but my prayer is it continues throughout this next phase of life!
I'm always the first to say I do not know everything there is to know about raising kids. In fact, I LOVE learning from other moms especially when you have lived and learned!! The advice I give below is what worked for us and has brought us to where we are now: FULLY open (sometimes way too open) lines of communication with out 12 and 13 year old children. If you read to the end of the blog, I dialogue a conversation I had with my son Zion about him talking to us about the difficult stuff.
Depending on the development of your kids this could range from infant - 2+. When intentionally having conversations with your kiddos, make sure you get on their level. You want them to feel like you are talking TO them and not AT them. To encourage attention I would grab their hands together and give them some kisses. During the pre-talking age its really more about making the connection then communication.
TODDLER YEARS (2-5)
So much growing up happens between the ages of 2-5 and while it may seem early, this is where you lay the foundation of open conversations with your kids.
The easiest way to get a toddler or young child to start talking is to ask them questions! Questions let them know you are interested in what they have to say. This may go without saying, but listen when they talk, and repeat it back to them to show you they are listening. I promise you, kids are more open to talking when they know you genuinely care.
My biggest piece of advice for the pre talking age and the toddler years is to not only talk to them when you are telling them NOT to do something or correcting an action. If the only time you have genuine conversation with your kiddos is when they are being disciplined, they will begin to associated that as "mommy only talks to me when I make a poor choice." This could mean they will A. act out more to get that attention or B. withdraw completely. Here are some common situations you may deal with in the toddler years.
Pretend Play - You and your child are in the toy room and he/she is pretending to make you breakfast.
Me: "Hollis, what are you making me for breakfast?"
Hollis: "A hotdog!"
Me: "A hotdog?? Do you like to eat hotdogs for breakfast?"
Me: "What do you like to eat for breakfast?"
Me: "Yes, you love toast don't you??"
Your child gets a 'sad face' for hitting a friend at preschool.
Me: "Hey Hollis, did you hit a friend at school today?"
Me: "Why did you hit a friend?"
Hollis: "I wanted to play with a toy and he didn't want to share."
Me: "He didn't share? That would make me sad too. But should we hit our friends?"
Me: "What do we do with our hands?"
Me: "That's right, we love with our hands. Can you show me how you love with your hands?"
EARLY CHILDHOOD (5-10)
There is a lot of info in this age group. Kids grow up so much between 5-10 years old - but the grace here is there are no hormones involved!! If the toddler years are the foundation of good communication with your kids, this phase is definitely the bones. Take your time to build it. Don't be hasty. Don't expect results overnight. Create some daily ways to begin natural conversation with your kids and then weekly I encourage some one on one time where it is just about them.
For many kids this is the age they begin attending school and are more children, some of whom may not be raised the same way you are choosing to raise your children. This is the age you lay a really good foundation for communication.
Kids need to learn how to have a normal everyday conversation which will lead to them feeling more comfortable with opening up and talking to you without poking and prodding. This has to start with us as parents.
My biggest piece of advice is JUST KEEP TALKING during this age range.
Talk about everything and listen to everything. Ask questions. Listen to their answers. Ask follow up questions. Keep the conversation going as much as you can. If your kids are used to having these type of conversations with you, it won't be abnormal (for them or you) when you need to discuss more important issues.
When Zion and Elle were this age we use to play a game called "Best and Worst". Everyday we each went around and said what our best and worst part of the day was. Sometimes this was at dinner, other times it was in the car, we just made sure we each had time to talk and express our own thoughts about the day. This also encouraged further conversation.
Something that has always been important to me as a mom is letting my kids know their emotions and feelings are 100% valid and deserve to be heard. Even in the most difficult moments of parenting I have always tried to give them the time to explain themselves or tell me how they feel. Disrespect is never allowed. Interrupting mom and dad is never allowed. Once we have spoken. we allow them time to speak. Once we give a consequence for their action, we ask if they understand why and if they think it is (for lack of a better word) "fair." For our sons, this teaches them emotions aren't a bad thing. For our daughters this will teach them NO ONE has the right to tell them they cannot speak. Now that Zion and Elle are 12 and 13 I can see this has been a HUGE confidence builder for them coming to us with difficult stuff. They know mom and dad are ready to listen, we don't simply rush to judgement and dish out consequences.
EXPLAIN YOURSELF AS THEIR PARENT
Whenever discipline was necessary, I always explained our job was to teach them and protect them. Sometimes discipline was because of protection, other times it was a lesson. We always make sure our kids know why they are being given a consequence.
CUSS WORDS AND INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE
When Zion was 5 years old he came home one day from kindergarten and asked me what a "bitch" was. My husband and I don't curse and so I knew it had to come from school. I first asked him where he heard it (yep, school) and I asked him who he heard it from and how it was used (so and so called a girl a bitch.) I was honest with him and told him it was an unkind word and inappropriate to be used towards anyone. I also told him not everyone speaks the same way we do and in the future a good rule is if mom and dad don't use the word, he shouldn't use that word. I did however encourage him to come to me with any questions if he ever hears anything else he is unsure of.
FAMILY RULE: IF MOM AND DAD DON'T USE THE WORDS, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE THE WORDS.
THE SEX TALK
Both Zion and Elle had already heard the word sex before we had a conversation with them. How do I know??? I asked them!! I went completely rogue on this --- I went against all the books out there and decided I would take this info my own hands, they way I felt most comfortable and how I wanted my relationship to be with my kids from this moment throughout their teenage years and extending into adulthood. THERE IS NOT ONE SINGLE CONVERSATION OFF LIMITS IN OUR HOME. NOTHING. During this age I did my best to eliminate the embarrassment factor - most of the time is was for me because they had no clue what they were asking held embarrassment.
We had the sex talk when Zion was in 5th grade and Elle was in 4th. I had the conversation earlier with Elle because I could tell she was reaching the age where her cycle would start. I wanted to talk to her about that, explain why that happens, and then lead into the sex talk.
In my personal opinion I would have the sex talk with your kids before the age of 10. Chances are they will hear the word at school and possibly even know a few things. It's sad but true. Its your choice on how in depth you go into explaining sex, we chose to explain it as in depth and as sensitive as possible. We told them about the act, how it was created as a way for an adult man and woman to show love to each other, and how sex is how babies are made.
Within this talk we told them sex was a private thing and should never be discussed beyond the walls of our home. Thats kind of how we left it for them at this age. I will say.... the sex talk shouldn't be a one and done talk. It should be an ongoing topic with your kids because at they grow, their bodies grow as well, and many things they begin to experience are beyond their level of control. They need to understand those things about their body from someone who loves them and wants what is best for them.
HOW TO FIND OUT IF YOUR KIDS KNOW ABOUT SEX
If you are wondering if your kids have heard about sex at school (or else wear) here is how I started the conversation. Once again, if you talk to your kids about things on a regular basis this won't be weird or out of the blue for them.
Me: "Hey bud, does anyone at school use language daddy and I don't?"
Z: "What do you mean."
Me: "Have you heard any words you don't know what they are?"
Me: "Could you tell me these words?"
***this is where Zion said an inappropriate sexual word, so I knew he had at least heard terms relating to sex.
If you are currently in this age you might be feeling a little tapped out. I have noticed these are the years kids almost revert back to toddlerhood. You'll wonder why in the world they thought it was acceptable to make certain decisions and you'll be repeating yourself over and over again. My best advice for this phase is is don't change the family rules, keep your expectations the same, and do your absolute to keep your calm as your enforce consequences.
This is the age range where you'll begin receiving answers like "good" and "fine". It is easy to poke and pride for more info but I have found this only leads to frustration on their part which in turn could lead to disrespect. Sometimes you just have to let this go. If you have those special talking times during dinner or during the week, use this as your time to ask the questions and receive more in depth answers.
The preteen years also bring about their need to have a choice or an opinion about EVERYTHING. In one way this is good because, hey more talking, but on the other hand it is also super annoying for parents because what should be simple, is not longer simple. I have found one of the best ways to help them understand mom knows best is to allow them to follow through with their opinion or choice. For example, my son wanted to wear a certain pair of workout shorts to the pool one day. I explained to him those shorts were a little big on him and once they got wet they would difficult to keep up. He insisted he had cinched the waist in and they would be fine, so I agreed to allow him to wear them. Once his shorts got wet he realized I was right and had to hold them up the rest of the day and couldn't jump in or they would have come right off. I didn't even have to say anything, he knew it! Lesson and consequence all in one.
In so many ways our kids have no control over what is going on with their emotions and often times their actions. Our boys can tend to be more aggressive, our girls tend to be more moody, and as a parent you will wonder what in the world has happened to all the hard work you put in during the past decade. I can't tell you how many times I have lost my temper due to choices they have made during this phase of life.
You will find yourself reinforcing past expectations and/or rules quite often. This age also brought about the response "I don't know" when I asked my kids why they did something. I personally believe there is always a reason for a choice being made, even if it is as simple as "I was bored." In order for us as parents to continue the
FAMILY RULE: "I DON'T KNOW" ISN'T AN ANSWER.
EARLY TEEN (13 -14)
I'm in the early phases here so much of what I'm sharing I'm still learning. So far what we are doing all seems to be going well, however I'm not afraid to switch things up if needed.
Parenting isn't over. I see so many parents look at this age as almost of freedom for them. In many ways it does offer you more freedom, especially with not needing a sitter every time you want to go out or those extra hands around the house to help with big chores, but they still need us to be FULLY THEIR PARENT. My biggest piece of advice for this age is teach them how to be handle the responsibilities and indigence they are seeking. A lot of your parenting duties are done (they can bathe and feed themselves, they more than likely wake up and go to sleep on their own, they know how to do all the household chores, etc) by this point, but early teens are still clueless on how to handle their budding hormones, their desire for attention from others, texting and social media safety. If we have any expectation on how we want them to behave or respond to specific situations, we have to teach them.
TALK ALL THE TIME
We have weekly talks with out kids. Sometimes we do it all together, sometimes we take them to their rooms individually. We do our best to always do it together as mom and dad. I have heard some parents say they let the dad handle the boys and mom handle the girls and I can completely understand that - for some subjects we definitely do that too. More than anything though I want our teens to see mom and dad as a single unit, not one or the other. I don't want our son to ever be embarrassed to come to me about things if his dad happens to be out of town. I don't want our daughter to think she can't talk to her dad about something because he won't understand. This 100% has helped because when they were younger, we started doing this. We removed the embarrassment. We don't act shocked or disappointed when they make very natural, teenage mistakes.
Make sure you are talking to them even when there are no red flags, even when their grades are amazing, and even when they have a smile on their face. This lets them know you genuinely care about them and their life and not just when they get in trouble for something. I have found if we are the ones approaching our teens, they talk much more easily than if we just expect them to come to us whenever they are having an issue with something. Our son Zion has even told us at times its difficult to approach us and say "Hey mom, I need to tell you something", but if his dad and I take the time to talk to him just because he feels much more comfortable opening up.
Without going into detail here, I promise you, you will deal with anything and everything you could possibly think of when they become teenagers. Its just the nature of the age and for me (so far) I'm really thankful we've had to dive head first into certain conversations in the early teenage years. My brother once told me that once your kids reach the age of 16 you have pretty much lost all of your parental power over them. I always keep that in mind when I'm raising all of our kids now, even our three year old.
Everything I could ever want our children to know and learn from us is all within our power, parents. We just have be willing to step up to the plate and make it all happen.