How To Be An Askable Parent

KRISTA ANDERSON-HILL, Senior Parenting Correspondent 

February 11, 2019

As a parent you are your child’s first and most important teacher.  All parents want to be the go to person for their children, tweens and teens.

From the where do babies come from question,  to the important topic of teen drug use, we want our children to talk to us, ask us questions and be open to our guidance.  We want to be askable parents. Being an “askable parent” means that your child sees you as approachable, safe and open to questions and conversations about the little things and big things.  Here are four powerful strategies to becoming an askable parent.

1.) Listen more speak less
It is helpful think of communication with our children as a two way street. Ask open ended questions:  What you do think about that? How did that make you feel? How would you have responded to that situation? Shoot for engaging conversations that asks the why’s and fosters their own thinking process. By listening to our children, we are communicating that they are worthy of attention. Listening creates connection; children see their parent as being in their corner and a base they can return to when they need support. And, when children feel listened to, they are more likely, in return, to listen to their parent and have trust and interest in what their parent says.

2.) Talk in the in-betweens
Most good conversations we have with our children happen when we are walking to school, cooking together, playing a sport together and often at bedtime.  These times make connecting and talking with our children easier because we are not looking directly at each other, we are in parallel position. Children and especially teens open up in the middle of doing other things, the in-bewteens. These times foster ease, safety and can tone down high charge topics.

3.) Embrace your child’s conversational style
Just like there are different learning styles, there are different conversational styles. Our children have a natural conversational style that works best for them. One child might be a morning talker, the other, opens up during a nighttime tuck in.  One child likes fast paced, back and forth conversation with lots of questions, the other, needs to talk at a slower pace, with lots of time for reflection. One of the keys to being askable is to embrace your child’s natural conversational style and rhythm.  Build in 15 minute windows of connection around the time that naturally works for your child and embrace their personal style.

4.) Practice Empathy
When a child feels hurt, disappointed, anxious or angry, they need and want their parent.  But as parents, sometimes we want to be quick fixers and we tell our hurt child to not feel the way they do. We say, “don’t be disappointed, its okay” or “don’t be mad, you will get another chance”. Although these comments steam from wanting to ease the pain of our children, they do the opposite; children can feel ashamed for how they feel, the hurt get bigger and they learn that opening up about how they feel makes them feel worse. A more positive and productive response is empathy. Empathy validates and honors feelings.  Empathy sounds like” That is a big worry. Can you tell me about it?” or “You are upset. I would be too. What would make you feel better?. Empathy helps a child feel understood, valued and open to problem solving. Over time, empathetic responses build solid parent/child connection and the child’s belief, that the parent is safe and trustworthy.

Think of listening more and speaking less, talking in the in-betweens, embracing your child’s conversational style and practicing empathy as some of the foundational ingredients to being an askable parent. They build the foundation to having meaningful and successful parent child talks about the day to day and the more challenging, BIG talks, about topics like bullying, sex, drugs and suicide.  The great thing about these strategies is that it is never too early or late to start using them, the more you use the strategies the more natural it feels and any effort to be an askable parent strengthens the connection you have with your child.