Does it feel like your kids have suddenly stopped want to talk with you? Prior to entering school, it seemed like they always wanted to share with you. Now that they are a bit older it seems like they are shutting you out. We have compiled a few helpful strategies to encourage your kids to talk with you, and with more practice, a more natural and longer lasting dialogue can be established.
- Take advantage of conversation openings
Kids often can leave breadcrumbs of information in the simple exchanges they use with parents. By noticing and responding they can feel more comfortable going into greater detail. Kids are not savvy in when to talk with you, so be prepared that these info nuggets can come when you are in the middle of a project or pressing deadline. Be willing to drop what you are doing to focus on what your child is sharing. By being responsive and sincerely interested you can build closeness. To the child, this is a clear sign that you are trust-worthy and reliable, which will matter more as they age and situations become more complex.
Teens that feel close to their parents, report feeling like they share serious situations with their parents at any time of the day, and they know their parents will be supportive. Sure, you would rather sleep or your boss has been hounding you for that report revision, but this doesn’t matter to a teen. If they feel that their parents are willing or able to listen, they will turn to the closest ear, and that person’s advice might not align with your family’s values.
- Ask open ended and nonjudgmental questions
Try to avoid “why” questions that might make your child feel defensive. Instead of asking your daughter “Why are you wearing that?” rephrase the question to be “What do you think most of the girls will be wearing to Homecoming?”
- Listen, more than offer solutions
Your child, like most people need to vent frustrations first. Then they need the opportunity to formulate solutions that most benefit them so they can feel more capable and confident. Your teen doesn’t want Mommy to kiss their boo boo when they are thinking about what colleges they may want to attend. Try to be a sounding board for your child and help them brainstorm both solutions and action steps forward. Kids are more likely to trust our advice when we have helped empower them with the skills they need to create successful outcomes.
- Create daily moments of connection with your child
Every day offers an opportunity to better get to know our children and what is happening in their lives. It can be as simple as a few moments or as lengthy as a daily ritual. Anytime you get opportunity to spend together you can both better understand each other’s values, concerns, thoughts and essence. You can use opportunities like watching a show or doing a hobby together to balance daily life with shared interests. This may make conversations feel a bit more natural and reduce your child’s pressure or anxiety to share concerns with you. Don’t expect your kid to propose this heart to heart, but with more laid back and open moments together they will begin to feel more comfortable talking with you.
- Build a routine of “special time” with each child
Have Dad take his daughter to shoot pool on Fridays or Mom taking her son out for coffee after track. Kids benefit from routine solo face time with a parent. If there is consistency and a safe neutral space, they may feel more inclined to share pressing worries or sensitive topics with you.
- Reflect on how you initiate conversations with your kids
If your kids still aren’t willing to talk regularly with you consider how you approach a conversation with them. Kids are dealing with a lot on there plates from overscheduled days, to hormones, to school politics to complicated feelings over their changing bodies. They can take having conversations with their folks for granted since they typically know you will show up for them at the crucial times.
Make a point to start a conversation with a friendly and low-key tone. Remind your child that you are interested in their life and want to spend quality time together. Try giving them a few fun options and letting them pick when and where to spend time with you. If they feel they can enjoy time with you and not get more stressed out, then they will be more inclined to open up about their emotions to you.
- If your invitation is met with disdain or sarcasm, don’t respond with frustration or anger
Let’s face it, kids can be jerks at times. If you offer to spend quality time with them later in the week, and are met with a blank stare or a hurtful remark respond by showing your vulnerability and hurt. Try saying “Ouch!” or conveying that time with them is important to you. Most kids will have some degree of remorse for their negative reaction, especially since you didn’t add fuel to the fire. You might even mention that you didn’t think their slight was intentional and use this as an opportunity to ask if something else is bothering them. It is important to reaffirm how much you love your child and want them to be comfortable sharing their thoughts with you. If they still aren’t civil with you, then this is an indication your relationships need some repair and a more structured heart to heart, possibly with a therapist, is in order.
- Be Available
Kids won’t don’t follow a schedule when it comes to sharing their feelings, and nothing makes them so guarded than being pressuring into talking. Kids are more apt to share when you have proven yourself to be receptive and a good impartial listener.
Younger children can be chatterboxes and respond well to car conversations or while doing a project. Older children are more complicated and share when they feel safe and not judged. Time in the car or while doing chores may be a helpful low-key situation to start a conversation. Remember, to look for the openings and be ready to take advantage of the in. If you are more pressed for time, clearly state availability with your child and be willing to pick up the phone if they suddenly call. However, the most import part of availability is having an open and welcoming mind. Your child will be able sense your emotional state and receptiveness.
- Take Advantage of Low-Pressure Environments
Sharing can be scary. Kids might be uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability and be most apt to talk when eye contact is minimal, such as when you are talking a walk, riding the car or sitting in low lit rooms. Another opportunity to learn about your child is when they are hanging out with their friend and you are naturally nearby. You kid will know that you are close, but less worried about your feedback than if they were speaking with you directly.
This seems so simple, but can actually be difficult to do! When you child is sharing you most likely will be tempted to chime in. Do your best to listen and nod affirmations or hold their hand if they are getting emotional. Try to reflect back what you are hearing them say and avoid using judgmental statements or strong emotions, then quickly return to silence so they can share more if necessary. This way they can feel confident you are fully comprehending what they are saying. A sign that you are on the right track is if after they share, they feel comfortable to give you a hug and look you in the eye when they say Thank You.