While hiking with my daughter not too long ago, we hiked for a while and then sat by the lake and had an honest and deep conversation. This happens quite often when we are out hiking. I treasure these times that allow me to get to know her on an even deeper level.
In my personal experience, sharing an activity with your child, where there isn’t a ton of direct eye contact, is the ideal atmosphere to allow a child to be more apt to open up about things.
I don’t know too many kids that will open up while being directly interrogated by parents about a specific issue. Usually it ends in anger and frustration and you won’t have gained any information to help with whatever the issue may be.
Kids need a gentler approach. They need to feel comfortable and they need to trust you before you gain access to their innermost thoughts and feelings.
Following are my recommendations for having a more productive conversation with your child. I believe these are good tactics to use starting around age 5 and continue into adulthood.
Listen and hold your tongue. Do not give advice unless asked for. If they are explaining a situation, put yourself in their shoes and talk about how that must have made them feel. Help smaller children put their feelings into words for them. Don’t immediately start giving them advice.
Seize opportunities when the arise and pay complete attention. When your child wants to talk, everything else needs to be put on the back burner. Doesn’t matter what you need to do or what you are doing. Stop and just let them talk when they feel like it. So you go to work tired the next day or some chore doesn’t get done or you miss your favorite tv show. What is more important?
Ask specific, but open questions. Not too vague. Don’t ask “How was your day at school?” Ask “What did the teacher think about your art project?” “How was that test, was it harder than you thought?” “Anything make you laugh today at school?”
Acknowledge your child every day. Give them your attention when they are talking. Even a little touch on the arm when you are busy lets them know, you know they are there.
If you ask a question and are met with sarcasm or annoyance, don’t take it personally. You should know it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Back off and let them have a little space. It’s perfectly okay later to let them know they hurt your feelings by the way you addressed you, but in the moment, it will just escalate the situation.
Repeat back your understanding of what they are saying. This avoids you acting on false assumptions. It gives them an opportunity to clarify what they mean, this benefits both themselves and you.
Get involved with what they are interested in. Never make fun of or scoff something that is really important to them. Judgement arises defensiveness and secrecy. If you are trying to be understanding and learn more about it, they will be more ready to share other more important things with you.
Giving your child an environment where they feel comfortable talking to you will make it that much easier to open up when they may have done something wrong. You can talk it through calmly, instead of making them feel like they will have to hide it.
Your turn…what tactics do you use to get your child talking? Leave a comment below and share it with the rest of us.