Learning how to open up emotionally to your children can be hard. Parents sometimes see themselves as authority figures and other times as nurturers. Parents actually do both simultaneously whether they realize it not. Becoming more aware of how we, as parents, can be emotionally open with our kids can help us mutually grow and influence our children’s emotional health for the rest of their lives.
The key thing to focus on, regardless of what age your child is, is to not ignore your emotions. Before you can truly open up to your kids you need to be in tune with yourself and your emotions. Start by taking a few breaks throughout the day to gauge your emotions in as much detail as you can. This doesn’t mean you need to come up with some elaborate way to express yourself; just take a few moments to make an honest assessment of how you’re feeling and the right words to express it.
Once you’ve become more in tune with your own emotions you can open up to your kids at any age.
If Your Children Are Younger (Ages 5 to 9)
Get to know their personality and temperament and meet them where they are. By understanding your children’s points of view you can better communicate with them on a basic level. From there you can spend time opening up in a way they can understand.
It’s also important to remember that you should avoid excuses for not being open. For example, if you hide negative emotions from your children, they will begin to learn that having those emotions are not acceptable to share with others. Instead, find a healthy way to express those emotions with them.
Pre-Teens (Ages 10 to13)
As you and your child both get busier it’s easy to replace quality time with surface-level activities that are more fun, but less beneficial to your emotional connection. Quality will always trump quantity. This shows them the true meaning of emotional connections and openness and sets a great example. During this quality time you can both understand that emotional openness is a privilege and should be shared and celebrated with those closest to you.
Teens (Ages 14 to 18)
Don’t let your emotional openness close up as your child grows up. All parent-child relationships have their moments of strain and stress. More and more of those moments come during the middle school/high school years. Remember to be patient and to not get discouraged if your child pulls away from time to time. Continue to be steady when it comes to being emotionally open and available to them.
At this point in their lives teenagers seek your honesty. So, be honest and let them know that their feelings will be validated, not judged. When you are honest with them they will likely be more open and honest with you.
When children become adults your role in their life completely changes. You are still their parent, but you are less of an authority figure. This doesn’t mean you should close off your emotions, though. In fact, you should continue to expand your emotional openness with them by regularly talking and listening. Tell them how you’re doing without reverting to words like “good,” “OK” and “fine” and ask them to do the same. You will see that your understanding of yourself and each other will grow over time.
Opening up emotionally with your children sets the right example for them for any relationship they’ll have in their lifetimes. Be open and honest with yourself and open and honest with them. Include physical aspects like hugs and high fives to accompany the dialogue. Set realistic expectations that neither of you will be perfect and this is acceptable. Being emotionally open will allow you both to learn to know yourselves and others and have healthy relationships with realistic outlooks.