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Monday, August 23, 2010

Peace in the Family: Information or Ammunition?

If you find yourself with burning questions to ask your child the moment they return from the other parents' home, you have to give it some serious thought before you follow that impulse. Are you compelled to ask your child those questions out of love and interest, or is this really an interrogation (subtle or not so) to gather ammunition for the next round in Family Court. Let's face it, questions are usually not a great way to interact with children at any age...unless it's a VERY young child and you're in a teaching mode this yellow or is this green?!

Adult-generated questions typically do not lend themselves to spontaneous sharing and closeness. Quite the opposite. You are setting the agenda and your child is going to do the very best they can to give you answers that are pleasing to you. Far better to greet your child warmly and happily, genuinely expressing your hope that they had a great time. Then get into settling them back in to your home and their life with you. Trust that your child will share with you if and when they get the urge. Your job, Mom or Dad, is to nurture a relationship with your child that encourages and supports honest communication.

You may think you're being subtle when you indirectly, covertly, and ever so gently probe for more information and yet more details. Children aren't fooled. Depending on their age, they'll tell you what you want to hear to please you and reassure you, or they might decide to challenge you or even confront the fact that you are putting them squarely in the middle between two people they love.

If you really want information from your child about his or her life that will bring you closer together, then let it emerge naturally as the two of you spend positive and enjoyable time doing activities you both like. Listen actively to your child's verbal and nonverbal communication. Active listening requires your full attention, not focus divided between the child and driving or the child and a cellphone or email or whatever.

Knowing your child demands an investment of time, energy and focus on your part as a parent that can reap great rewards in the form of a close and loving relationship built on trust and honesty. Check yourself. Make sure you really want that deep, personal knowledge about your child and that you're not just hunting for ammunition to use in your adult war. Self-honesty is where genuine connection begins.