Mom: “Hi, dear! How was school today?”
Mom: “What did you do today?”
How many parents attempt to talk with their kids and end up with an interchange like the one above? We want to talk with them but we often don’t know how to avoid one-syllable answers. We know nothing about their day at school from the time they leave home until they get home. When we ask, it seems we’re prying.
It’s easy to become frustrated and give up on efforts to reach them. If we do, days can pass without meaningful communication between us. The result can be that they think we don’t care and don’t want to talk and the situation snowballs until we’re almost strangers.
We communicate most with our kids when they’re babies. We spend hours teaching them to talk. As they grow more independent from us, we talk with them less and less. As more children join the family and demand our attention the way that babies do, the older child seems to fade into the background. We forget to sit and enjoy him, focusing on the daily problems that pop up and demand our attention. Then, when he becomes a teenager and we want to know what he’s thinking and doing, we try to talk with little success.
How do we turn this situation around? There are several ways and it’s never too late to make changes in our relationships with our older kids. Also, we can develop habits with our younger children that will ensure good communication now and in the future.
To establish communication with your kids:
1. Read to your children at bedtime, starting when they are babies.
2. After the story is finished, have a talk about it. Ask for reactions and opinions.
3. Tell them a few things about your day and ask about theirs. “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” and “What did you like most about today?” are questions that they’ll enjoy answering. Often this can lead into their telling you what bothered them that day. Listen, don’t judge or dictate solutions.
4. As kids get older, they might not want a story but still enjoy the warm and intimate time they’re used to having with you. They’ll be used to sharing events and feelings about their day, good and not so good. Be sure to save some time to have with them at their bedtime.
5. With an older children or teens who haven’t grown up with bedtime talks and stories, start by just making yourself available to them by being in the same room with them. You might watch a TV program, being friendly and non-pressuring. You could ask their opinion on the program, remembering that their ideas may be very different from yours. If they find that you accept their ideas without preaching and criticism, they’ll be more willing to share in the future.
6. Ask for your kids’ advice on a problem you’re facing. Kids often have excellent ideas and we underestimate them. Thank them for their input; be sure to follow up and let them know how things worked out for you.
7. Take advantage of time spent driving your kids to events, doctors’ appointments, and lessons. Ask open-ended questions such as “what do you like best about your coach?” or “what are you enjoying most about your dance class?” Often you’ll get a response about what they don’t like and you’ll learn more about what’s going on in their lives.
8. Make a plan to take your kids out for lunch or dinner one at a time. Remember, this isn’t an interview. You’re out to share some fun time together that will likely bring you closer.
9. Look at your kids when they talk to you. Give them your full attention. Treat them as you’d like to be treated by a friend.
10. Listen carefully to what they say. Respond by asking a question to be sure you understand, for example, ” You’re telling me that you feel your teacher doesn’t like you?”
Your efforts to establish good communication with your kids will reward you many times over. Start as early as possible and never give up. I’m here to help you if you’d like to contact me with questions and/or comments.
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