By Rachel Macy Stafford
1. Stop moving and stop doing when they speak to you
By looking up from the task at hand and looking into your children’s eyes, you are indicating you value their thoughts, no matter how trivial. This provides both a foundation and an invitation for more difficult conversations as they grow.
* Tip: If your days are full and you cannot give your undivided attention whenever your child speaks, make sure there is a time of day when you can be ALL there. Maybe it is at bedtime or right afterschool.
When my older daughter was 3 she began asking for “talk time” at night. It involved ten minutes of her asking innocent questions and telling me trivial things and me giving her my undivided attention.
She is now 12 and we still have “talk time” every night. As one would expect, the questions and topics have become more serious, and I am grateful to be part of the conversation.
2. Respect their words.
Maybe it takes time for them to put their thoughts into words. It’s okay; you don’t have to finish their sentences—they will come. Maybe their opinion is completely nuts. It’s okay; you don’t have to agree. Maybe they remember something differently than the way you do. It’s okay; you don’t have to be “right”. By giving them the time and space to share what’s on their hearts, you are strengthening their voice.
3. Let them speak for themselves whenever possible.
When my children have something they want to tell the coach, the waiter, or the sales clerk, I first let them practice what they want to say and then they are encouraged to speak for themselves.
I will never forget when we were sitting at my child’s fifth grade parent/teacher conference and the teacher asked if we had any concerns. My daughter quietly spoke up to say she loved helping her classmates but there was one student who made her feel very uncomfortable.
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