There are two challenges we all face as parents and guardians: getting our children to talk to us, and getting them to listen to us. And that’s no surprise: communication is difficult, even for adults. But the trick to making sure it’s easy to get your kids to open up (and listen up) is communicating every day. Here are some ways to help make that happen.
- Have one meal a day together. This one depends on your schedule. Maybe it’s breakfast. Maybe it’s dinner. Maybe it’s a light before-bed snack. The main thing is that all members of the household sit down at the table together and talk about their day. You can start the conversation with “Tell me one good thing that happened today.” Or, if that doesn’t spark anything, try asking for one funny thing, or one weird thing. No matter what, sharing food together has a way of inspiring conversation (remember, that’s why we used to take our dates to restaurants, right?)
- Look for opportunities. Sometimes our children will want to start a conversation at times that are less than convenient. Maybe you’re rushing out the door, or trying to get dinner out of the oven, or about to write that important email. But if the opportunity for conversation arises, take it. It’s always better to engage.
- Keep it informal. Children seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to their parents trying to do something “parenty”. You’ve probably been there: the first time you try that new tip from the parenting book, your child seems to sense that you’re doing something out of the ordinary, and the last thing they want to do is open up. Same goes with communication — it has to feel natural. So try talking while you’re doing the regular things you do. During a commercial break on TV. While they’re helping you clean up the kitchen. While you’re in the car together. These small moments are big opportunities to connect.
- Talk about anything. You don’t always have to talk about the “big” things. Little conversations are essential in helping your child understand that you’re someone they can connect with. And those small, casual conversations often provide the most insight into their worlds.
- Try keeping a journal. Okay, this one isn’t for everyone, but if you’re the writing type, you might find it rewarding. Write down a single sentence about your family every day. This small step (it’ll only take a few moments) will help you be more present during your conversations, and it will help keep an ongoing record of what’s going on in the lives within your household. Most of all, it might help avoid the kind of autopiloting that’s the natural result of balancing the stresses of work and home.
- Keep a schedule. Make plans and schedules for you child so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Discuss with your child the benefits of a Daily or Weekly Plan. Incorporate into the plan components that give your child some free time. Snack time with mom or lunch with dad give your child another opportunity to have time with you and open up about what is happening with them.
Remember that open communication isn’t something that just happens. It’s the result of countless small conversations you have, every day. Build it a little bit at a time, and you’ll find the rewards are pretty big. And remember, the more support, more time and more attentiveness you can give your child, the more successful they will be!