Open The Lines Of Communication
Developing an open-door policy with your kids and letting them know you're available requires several things. First and foremost, let them know they're a priority. Shut off that BlackBerry (yes, as in truly turn the power button off) and truly be open for the parenting business.
Create cuddle time
Leslie Seppinni, doctor of clinical psychology and licensed marriage family therapist, says there are some simple ways to make yourself available, and you can start as early as the morning. "If they're young," she says, "sometimes it's nice to let them climb into bed with you and cuddle up before the day starts."
She also recommends getting up earlier in the morning and having breakfast with them. "You can have one day a week with each kid so they get one-on-one time. Kids really don't care so much what you do -- they care more about being with you." Even with daily errands, Seppini says you can make yourself more available by involving them in the process. Her advice? "Make them feel like they're a part of it. For example, give them a mission, like finding something particular at the store."
Ask open-ended questions
For Dara Chadwick, author of You'd Be So Pretty If... Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies -- Even When We Don't Love Our Own and mother to a 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, asking open-ended questions is important. "I always try to ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share information but aren't too pushy. If my daughter's telling me a story about something that happened to a friend at school or an issue that one of her friends is having, I'll ask questions like, 'Why do you think she said that?' or 'What did so-and-so say when that happened?' -- anything that keeps her talking about her world."
Sylvia LaFair, president of Creative Energy Options, Inc. and author of Don't Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success, is also an advocate of conversations instead of today's instant world of quick solutions and communication methods. "Relationships need more than OMG-UR in TRBLE to find solutions to life's complex issues." She also advises waiting a second or two, taking a breath when your child gives you a response and responding, "Tell me more." This works almost like magic, she notes.
Encourage them to open up
Jill Starishevsky -- mother of two, prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City, and author of My Body Belongs to Me -- underscores the importance of making yourself available to your kids. Not only should you have an open-door policy, but also you're encouraging them to talk to you about things that happen to them or make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable, especially as it relates to child abuse and body safety. She explains, "If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem."
She adds, "We can teach our children about water safety and not make them fearful of the water. We need to do the same when it comes to keeping their bodies safe. If a child does disclose any type of abuse, it is important to take the disclosure seriously and report it to the appropriate authorities promptly."
Ultimately, strengthen the bond
Lastly, by making yourself more available to your kids, you're giving them uninterrupted time. Seppinni highly recommends turning off the computer when you're spending time with them, and don't use the phone in the car (in some states, it's illegal anyway). "Instead, ask them about their school days, their friends, what's going on with them. Give them time to relax around you and enough time to speak and respond. This strengthens your bond and builds trust."