“Listen TO and talk WITH your children the same way you want them to listen and talk with you” is advice I share with parents to help improve communication with their kids.

“Be yourself; let your children see you as a person, not just a parent” is a advice I offer to help build stronger connections between parents and children.

It became very clear to me recently, when my dear friend and her adorable 2.5 year old daughter came over for a (physically distanced) dinner, how those two tips are so closely connected. 

They can be combined into “listen to and talk with your kids the same way you listen to and talk with everyone in your life”. 

Parents often limit themselves by asking “what should a parent do or say now?”. I coach parents to take off their parent blinders, and to ask “what do I want to say or do now?”. I encourage parents to simply say exactly what they want to say (but perhaps, if you’re like me, with fewer swear words).

When my dinner guest climbed up on a tall stool to reach for a tomato slice (yes, this kid loves tomatoes), I didn’t say the parental sounding “you know you shouldn’t climb on that” or “get down now”. I simply said what I would say to anyone who was climbing dangerously: “I’d feel more comfortable if you sat down and were safer.” And she promptly sat down.

When she picked up a container of fireplace matches, instead of sharply saying “put that down!”, I just said “those are matches for the fireplace, and not to be played with”. And she promptly put them down.

And when she asked me to play a game with her, I really didn’t want to. And so instead of putting my own feelings aside, and agreeing to play, I said, “No thank you. I’m feeling pretty tired and don’t want to play right now.” And she promptly asked my husband who agreed to her request.

We can’t do our best job caring for our kids if we don’t care for ourselves first. And we can’t communicate fairly and calmly with our kids if we aren’t being our true selves when we communicate with our kids. If we are wearing our parental blinders, and only saying what we think a good parent should say, then we’re losing out on the opportunity to connect with our kids on a true, personal level.

I always thought of myself as a good parent (Mommy) AND a good person (Susan). And I wanted my kids to know both of me. I recognized that my kids had multiple sets of emotions and behaviors that they shared with the different people in their lives, and I accepted all those different parts of their personalities. So why shouldn’t my children see the different sides of me? We all deserve to be valued and appreciated for our entire being.

So take off those parent blinders. Then genuinely communicate with your kids as the full and real you. They’ll appreciate and love you for being yourself, and your close family connections will grow even stronger. Try it – what have you got to lose?