Communication is a key ingredient in every healthy relationship. I think most of us would agree with that statement, especially when talking about our relationship with our spouse. But what about our relationships with the other men in our lives? By the other men in my life, I am referring to my two sons. Here are 5 techniques I used at different stages of their lives to help them open up and communicate more with me.
1. Ask Specific Questions and Pick the Right Time
When they are small, we teach our children to “use their words” to communicate what they need or want and even how they feel. As they grow, go to school, and have interactions on their own, we ask them questions to prompt communication. Sometimes getting clear answers to these questions is like pulling the teeth of a hungry lion, but we ask nonetheless.
As they learn to communicate more clearly, we learn to ask more specific questions in order to get more detailed information. For instance, in elementary school, I would ask my boys who they sat with at lunch, who they played with at recess, what things they talked about in science, and the list goes on. I found that the questions had to be really focused, or I would get the shrug and generic “I don’t know” response.
It seemed that bedtime was when my oldest wanted to chat about the deeper subjects. In his younger years, he shared about who he did or didn’t want to be partners with in different situations. or he would ask me questions about our faith. It seemed that the time between bath and lights out, while we were doing devotions and praying, was when he would do a lot of processing.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: he was just playing me to stay up longer. Yes, sometimes that was the case, but I always gave him a few minutes to talk so I could figure it out. If he was trying to use it to stay up later, I would cut it short. However, even if it was a tactic to stay up, I was showing him that I was always willing to listen to whatever he needed to say. Giving him even just a few minutes validated his words and feelings and gave him his voice.
I found that one of the reasons it was easy for them to talk to me at bedtime was that they felt more comfortable sharing more difficult things in the dark, when they didn’t have to look at me or see my facial expressions. At this age, they are looking for our approval and don’t want to disappoint us. There was a comfort being in proximity with each other in their “safe space.”
2. Meet Your Son Where He’s At
Both of my boys are mechanically inclined. They loved being in the shop, going for drives, riding quads, and just being outside. We spent a lot of time at the local speedways. Even when my husband was working and not able to go, I still took them to the racetrack, which gave us more common ground. I spent time with them working on their trucks, riding quads through muddy trails, building shelters for their animals, and then chasing them when they broke out. We went to demolition derbies and then walked through the carnage of the participants. I earned their trust by investing in their lives and the things that interested them.
So, if your son is a gamer, find a game you can play together. Be willing to not know what you are doing, and give them the opportunity to teach you about it. Giving them the space of having more knowledge than you and then sharing that with you is powerful for a young man. Be willing to laugh at yourself as you mess up because games are supposed to be about having fun, and you are setting the stage for them to be the teacher instead of you.
I earned my sons’ trust by investing in their lives and the things that interested them.
3. It’s OK to Share Your Own Struggles With Your Kids
Middle school boys are dealing with just as many hormonal changes as girls. It just looks different. Their emotions will be a roller coaster, so buckle up. Pay close attention to their body language. There will be times when they need space to process before they can talk to you. By giving them the space, you are showing them respect, and in turn, you will receive it.
Be willing to share your struggles. It helps them when you are willing to be a little vulnerable. Of course, you will have to filter it appropriately. I have always shared my struggles with depression and anxiety. How much and what I shared depended on how old my boys were at the time.
4. Learn to Speak Their Language
A middle schooler doesn’t have a sophisticated vocabulary to always explain what’s going on. Heck, sometimes I struggle with words. In late elementary or early middle school, one of my boys told me he was feeling “aaahhh” with a hand motion that was a combination of wringing his hands and jazz hands. He was trying to tell me he was anxious but didn’t have the words.
My husband and I talked to him about how, when, and in what situations he was feeling “aaahhh.” He didn’t have the words, but by talking it out, we were able to help him understand what he was feeling and how to work through it.
As my boys got older and I wasn’t really tucking them in anymore, sometimes they would ask to go for a drive with me, especially when they were learning to drive. Every drive looked different. Sometimes we went to get ice cream, sometimes we drove the back roads blasting music, and other times we explored the logging roads. Most of these drives ended up in some level of conversation. Not always deep, but even if it was just random, I was building a foundation. I would hear song lyrics and use that as a conversation starter by asking their opinion and following the organic nature of where it went.
Just like when I tucked my oldest in at night during elementary school, there is something about communicating in the dark that feels safe. Driving at night with my boys was no different.
I think there is some comfort in them not being able to see our faces react, so keep your sighs to yourself. It will be hard to refrain from making our disagreement, disappointment, or even disgust known by the sounds that involuntarily make their way out of our bodies because we are moms, and this is how we communicate. This will discourage your son, so before you go on that drive, practice keeping it in. This is fragile and oh-so precious ground you are treading, and you don’t want to leave massive boot prints in it.
5. Recognize the Fine Line Between Caring and Being Overbearing
I have come close, hovered over, completely crossed, and even annihilated this fine line. I’m sure I will many more times. My boys have always been quick to tell me when I have. It doesn’t matter how old they were or are, I apologize and try to restrain myself from pushing. Let me tell you, restraining myself is so hard sometimes. But it’s worth it in the long run because when you push, they will clam up, and the likelihood of them wanting to talk about the subject again is pretty minimal.
I wish I could tell you there is a magic formula to get your son to open up and share freely. Unfortunately, there isn’t. This is part of growing your relationship with your boy, and sometimes growing pains hurt.
I can tell you that with grit and grace (mostly on your part), being willing to put yourself out there, showing them vulnerability by appropriately sharing your struggles, and continuing to listen to even the most mundane things they have to say, you are making a lifetime investment in your relationship with your son. You are also giving him the gift of knowing that his words and his voice matter. With that, he will grow into the man God has planned for him to be.
When you listen to your son, you are giving him the gift of knowing that his words and his voice matter.
Hey Mama, trust your gut! You know what’s best for your kid. Let this video from another #boymom encourage you…