Engaging with a child is an important aspect of their development and helps build a strong relationship between the child and adult (not to mention builds their psychological wellbeing). When there is an alienated child in the works, and specifically they make false accusations or comments, it gets even harder to know how exactly to communicate with them. Here are five ways to critically engage with a child:
1. Be Present
It is important to be present in the moment when engaging with a child. Put away any distractions and focus solely on the child. This helps build trust and shows the child that you value your time together.
2. Listen Actively
When a child speaks, it is important to give them your undivided attention. Show that you are actively listening by making eye contact, nodding, and responding appropriately. Don't cut them off or interrupt to defend yourself. This helps the child feel heard and valued, and keeps you off the defense (which only triggers more of an argumentative conversation). For alienated children, keep this same tactic, even if what they are saying is outlandish. Wait. Do not get triggered or reactive.
3. Ask Open-Ended Question
Encourage your child to think critically by asking open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. This helps the child learn how to express themselves and think more deeply about their experiences. Especially when a child is making an accusation, this it the time to ask these kind of questions. For example, your child says "dad says you never feed us the right foods and what you feed us is harming our bodies" - when in reality your diet for them is balanced.... you will want to engage by responding with something like "can you tell me a little bit more about the food you eat with me? What do you like and not like to eat?" rather than "your dad doesn't know what he is talking about. that is so not true I can't believe he is telling you that," etc. Get them to a place of understanding what the reality is, by helping them critically thinking about it. This is an authentic way to debunk a false belief, by being given the opportunity to get to the bottom of what they really believe.
4. Share Your Own Experiences
Children learn a lot from adults, so sharing your own experiences can be a great way to build a connection. This can be done by telling stories or sharing personal anecdotes that relate to the child's interests, or- by telling stories of 'others' you know... when it is really your situation. For example, "I have a friend who has a hard time managing emotions, so sometimes they come across angry or upset when in reality they are just afraid or hurt." This could be a way to describe their other parent, without saying it directly.
5. Use Positive Reinforcement
When a child does something well, it is important to acknowledge and praise their efforts. This helps build confidence and self-esteem, which are crucial for their development. You can also thank them for being open and honest, rather than criticizing them for doing so (if you feel offended, as sometimes a triggered response is "how dare you say that to me").
...By following these tips, you can critically engage with a child and help them develop important skills while building a strong relationship.
For more support and guidance on communicating with a child, especially under difficult circumstances, consider the support of a course or one-on-one coaching to best guide you in the right direction. How you show up with your child, especially during taxing times, makes all the difference in their development and how they will show up in their own lives.