A few months ago I wrote a post called: 25 Ways to Ask Your Kid’s “How Was School Today?” Without Asking Them “So How Was School Today?“. I wrote it late one night after a conversation with my husband about our son growing up and my determination to keep the lines of communication open with him. It was a list of questions that I actually started asking him and found success with.
To say that I was taken back by the response it received is an understatement. The amount of page views that flooded in crashed our blog and I ended up being interviewed on the NBC Nightly News about the post. Since then I’ve thought a lot about that post and the chain reaction it started. It seemed simple enough at the time I wrote it. It was just something I was doing at my house, with my children, to help foster an ongoing conversation about the things that were going on in their lives. It never occurred to me that it would receive so much attention.
I am not a child psychologist nor am I an authority on child behavior. My experience is limited. I have three children ages 10, 6, and 3. I was a school teacher for almost a decade with the first half at a lock down high school and the second half at a public junior high school. Currently I am a boy scout leader and teach elementary school children art classes on the weekends. And while I have enjoyed every second of my teaching and experiences in motherhood, it in no way has made me an expert.
However, as I’ve thought about the previous post I’ve realized that the majority of us are not experts. We are just ordinary people, plain old moms and dads doing our best day by day to build real relationships with our children…trying to teach, love, help, and protect them as best we can. It isn’t always easy and we aren’t always good at it…but we want to be…and so if there is something simple like how to rephrase a question that will instigate a real conversation with our children we are willing to try it out.
I also realized that while rephrasing the questions will help (and it totally will…especially if you rephrase them in your own words to make them authentic to your own personal voice) there are also a few more simple things that you can do that will help open a line of communication with your children. And even though, as I said, I’m not the authority on communication I did learn most of these tricks through trial and error while working with children of various ages.
So here they are, my 17 tips for communicating with kids. I hope that there will be 1 or 2 that you find helpful.
#1. Timing is everything. The best time to ask them about their day may not be right when they walk in the door from school or when other siblings are around. You may need to be observant and even experiment to find the time of day when your child is the most responsive.
#2. Set up situations that will lend themselves nicely to conversations. This doesn’t have to be hard or really even premeditated. It can be something as simple as inviting your child to ride along with you to the store or running to the gas station to get a soda. Car rides are a great place for conversation.
#3. Start conversations during tasks when you don’t need to make eye contact…especially if you are talking with teens on sensitive subjects. For example doing the dishes, folding laundry, or preparing dinner are all perfect times to start a conversation. Teens often will say more if they don’t have to look you in the eye. It allows them to open up without feeling threatened.
#4. Pay attention to how you look and your tone when your children address you. When they say “Mom?” how do you respond? With a weary look of please don’t ask me to do anything else? An exasperated sigh of “What?” Children are very in tune with your facial expressions and tone of voice. If we are always responding to their queries with exhaustion or irritation they won’t come to us for help or advice.
#5. Embrace the silence. Children don’t always answer questions right away and that’s ok. It can take seconds, minutes, and even days. Don’t demand an immediate answer or put words into their mouth. If you ask a question that is isn’t quickly answered simply ask them to think about it and tell you their answer when they have one or they are ready.
#6. Don’t over react. When your children tell you something…especially if it’s “bad” don’t over react or they won’t want to come to you again. Try to stay calm and ask them for some time to think about what they have shared with you.
#7. Share your own personal experiences with them. Talk about your own struggles, triumphs, or discouragements. You don’t always need to be asking them questions. Tell them about your day and what is happening in your life.
#8. Be willing to talk with your child even if when they are ready to talk it doesn’t come at an opportune time. (Like 2 minutes before your favorite show starts or at the end of a particularly long day. If they are need to talk be there to listen.)
#9. Interact on their interest level. Do they like to text? Text them. Often. Email? Email them. Often. Facebook? FB Private Message them. Often. (Notice I said private message them and not comment on all their status updates….we don’t want to embarrass them too much 🙂 ) Pop up where they spend time on social media.
#10. Get information in manageable chunks. Children, tweens, and even teens have a hard time sticking with long conversations especially emotionally charged conversations or topics that are frustrating, embarrassing, or difficult for them. Don’t expect too much from them all at once. It’s ok to ask get information in smaller bites over the course of a few days than trying to swallow an entire whale all at once. In fact, you may see more of the picture by gathering information this way.
#11. Sometimes it’s good to just listen. You don’t always need to give them advice or solve their problems. Sometimes children want what we all do…a good listener.
#12. Use the news, pop culture, and current events to your advantage…when watching a movie or listening to music ask questions that connect their lives to what they are seeing or hearing. For example, is there really someone like that at your school? OR What would you do if…..
#13. Ask specific questions…especially if you want a real answer. For example instead of asking “How are you doing?” ask “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?”
#14. Be interested in what they are interested in. If they like reading ask them for book suggestions (and read them). If they like football watch a game on TV with them. If they like cooking have them help you prepare meals. Whatever it is find a way to be genuinely involved in what they are interested in.
#15. Be approachable and available. Turn of technology especially when they are talking to you. Instagram can wait while they tell you about their test in 2nd period. Your children need to know they are more important than Pinterest.
#16. Be trustworthy. Keep confidences and take your children seriously. Don’t belittle or make fun of them no matter how trivial their problems and fears seem to you.
#17. Build a real relationship with your child. Listen when they talk. Be interested in what they tell you. They won’t be young forever…
As I said before I’m no expert but these tips have worked for me….and because we all want to have the best relationships we can with our children I hope that so me of them will work for you to.