It’s a fact of life as a parent that while you’re raising your children, you do an enormous amount of talking to them. When they’re babies, it’s considered a mistake to not talk to them as much as you can, as often as you can, as clearly as you can. I remember narrating every little thing I did with my babies and toddlers, from changing their diapers to buying groceries (this is an apple!). If I wasn’t talking, I was singing – and if I wasn’t singing, we were listening to music, watching a video or reading a book. Language is the key to brain development for little ones, as we all know.
As they get a little older and learn to ask questions (Where do we go when we die? Why don’t I have a penis like my brother? When is Daddy coming home?) most parents are often exhausted by the shear volume of information we have to both take in and give out each day to our adorable little love bugs. Some children, (like my daughter), find talking to their dolls and imaginary friends to be quite fulfilling, which can take some of the load off of a parent’s shoulder. Some children, (like my son), prefer to talk as little as possible, leaving mom and dad to wonder what the heck they are doing wrong (nothing, really).How to Talk to Your Grown KidsClick To Tweet
Then come the elementary school years, when talking becomes a series of commands and instructions. Sure, we have conversations with meaning – sometimes – but mostly we’re telling them what to do, when to do it, where to go and what not to forget – from thanking grandma to bringing homework to school. All the while, our children are learning from us – language, procedures, behavior, song lyrics…at least my kids did, because when all else failed I would still sing from time to time, much to their chagrin. On their end, we hear tales of lunch table discussions, mean teachers, fascinating science experiments and entire episodes of favorite TV shows (oh the torture).
The teen years are fraught with words, now more important and far bigger than simply thanking grandma. There are grades to worry about and bad influences to avoid, drugs and drinking and sex and sexting to obsess over, Snapchat and Instagram to monitor, wardrobes to look at sideways and, for many parents, college applications to focus on. Unfortunately it feels like half the time we are speaking to a void, our questions unanswered, our lessons seemingly unlearned. Teenagers are pushing boundaries all the time, and parents, as much as they are shaken to their core by some of the incredibly stupid or irresponsible or crazy things their high school kids do, have to keep talking rationally, with some sense of sanity and responsibility, just to keep the communication going. Talking – both parents and children – is the essential action to surviving the sometimes impossibly scary and heartbreaking teen years. You may not think they’re listening to you when you give advice or words of comfort or wisdom, but they are. They will hear your voice in their heads for years to come, and eventually they will be happy about it – though not for a while.
This is why it’s so terribly, terribly hard to stop talking so much once they reach adulthood – and I would be the first to admit that I don’t always succeed at keeping my mouth shut. While you still see them as your children, to the rest of the world they are employees, potential friends, date material, tenants, customers, bosses, and on and on. Those kids who you spent years and years talking to are all grown up now, and guess what? They are taking care of themselves. Of course, there are times when you simply have to step in and say something – a large expense that is unnecessary, a career decision that may be a mistake, a dress that looks simply awful – but for the most part, it’s time now to stay quiet about their lives. Unless, of course, you’re asked, and then by all means, say what you need to say, but try not to be harsh or critical or unkind. Because by the time your grown kids are asking for your advice, they have most likely been worrying about or questioning their own decisions already, and simply need you to affirm for them what is a good or bad choice.
You spent years talking to them, teaching them, explaining and outlining and conversing and listening. You have probably already seen reflected in who they are some of who you taught them to be – for better and for worse. Let them do the talking now, and you listen closely. You will know if you need to say anything, and when you do speak, they will be listening – because your voice is the one they are glad to hear in their heads, and your advice is the words they will, more often than not, take to heart. They’ve been listening all their lives.