Getting on Their Level: Removing Physical Differences to Better Facilitate Communication

By Gail Heaton

In our last article, we talked about the three main styles of communication. In that article we discussed how some children are naturally less likely to open up about issues they are facing simply due to their style of communicating, as well as how even in the most outgoing child, there will be times they will be more hesitant. (If you haven’t read that article yet, go check it out!)

Today we’re going talk about how to get those conversations flowing. We’ll start with how to help create or enhance an open environment of non-judgment. When parents enter a conversation with their child about how the child is adjusting to being a sibling to a special needs brother or sister, parents need to be mindful to suspend judgments in what they hear. The problem is, sometimes a parent’s unspoken communication can inadvertently send a message of judgment or subtle hostility, even when none exists. If you’ve ever had a bad day and wear it on your face, you will know what I mean: sometimes the way our countenance is can be a stumbling block to our child opening up to us.

Our posture can also be a stumbling block without us even realizing it. For example, we parents sometimes forget how much bigger we are than our kids. Think for a moment on how intimidating our sheer size can be to them, especially when we are correcting inappropriate behavior in them or asking them to tell us about their day.

Even if you don’t tower over your child like a giant, you can accidentally create a looming presence by glaring, pointing fingers, carrying an angry tone (left-overs from your bad day earlier), or all of these at once. Any of these can serve to distance you from connecting with your
child in a way that says to them ‘you are precious to me and I am here for you.’ In order to want to open up to you, your child will need to know at that moment in time that they are precious to you.

One of the most effective (and most accessible) techniques to bring more connection between you and your child and demonstrate that you are really listening to them is to literally get on their level. Sit on the floor, crouch, or squat. Changing your posture is such a simple thing to do, but it can have substantial benefits in how you relate to your children, and how they respond to you.

What you want to do is physically move your body in a way that matches your child’s size so that you are less “looming” and appear more approachable. This is especially important when having tough conversations with your resident kid, or when you notice that they are having a particularly difficult day. Make sure your eyes are level with theirs when you talk; a soft gaze will reflect their value and worth, no matter what may be going on all around them.

Speaking of your gaze, you may have noticed that maintaining eye contact is something that your adopted or foster child has a hard time doing. And there is a big reason for that: Looking into the eyes of another is a deeply connecting and intimate gesture. For those who have attachment issues, this will be painful.

For your resident child, however, this can be a way to express your satisfaction and interest in who they are as a person. Eye contact can let them know that you are truly listening to them. It’s a simple, yet powerful gesture. Keep in mind that all children will respond differently to sustained eye contact; never force it.

Do you find yourself doing any of the following? These examples create barriers between you and your child. Find ways to remove those barriers and have genuine open conversations with your child.

  • Is your habit to call out to your child across the room?
  • Talk to your child through closed doors?
  • Do you text important conversations instead of having them face to face?

Take heart. If you are not used to more open communication like the above suggestions, it may feel awkward at first to try them, for you or for your child. Know that when you try maybe even just one of these suggestions every day, in time it will become natural, and you will see the benefits for yourself and your child.

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