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Ten Strategies for Getting Children to Talk

Family Enjoying meal,mealtime Together“Most families tend to rush through dinner, especially the kids.  They can’t wait to get back to their computers and cell phones and iPods.  But they’ll stick around if the conversation is interesting.  And the biggest determinant is YOU.  If you see yourself and your life as a crashing bore, your kids will see the same thing.  But if you see your life as an endless succession of miraculous and fascinating events, your kids will be transformed by it.”  — Shmuley Boteach

The above quote was the preface of Dr. Laura Markham’s article “Foolproof Strategies for Getting Kids to Talk” on ahaparenting.com (http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/communication/foolproof-strategies-talk), and it really struck a chord with me.  Although we limit our children’s screen time, attempt to have open dialogue, and try to enjoy our dinners with special conversation, I have at times noticed my oldest son asking to be excused while halfway across the room to the iPad, still chewing a large bite of his dinner that he’s hoarded in his cheek.  Is the iPad that much more exciting than real life and what our conversations have to offer?   I certainly don’t want this to turn into the new ‘normal’ for our family.  Thankfully, Dr. Markham offers up ten tips for getting your children to talk to you, and the more it is practiced, the more natural it will become.

  1. Notice the little conversation openers.  It may be tough to direct your attention from what you were doing to your child, especially when you feel they may be asking a mundane question, but how you respond to his questioning is crucial in building closeness, and is an indication to him of whether or not he can count on you to talk to when he needs you for something important.  Dr. Markham mentions that teens who feel as though other things are more important to their parents than what they have to say often look elsewhere when they’re emotionally needy, which may not just be our loss, as well as theirs, but may also be harmful if they are turning to substances like drugs or alcohol to fill that void.
  2. Ask nonjudgmental questions that require real answers.  Open ended questions (“How was

school today?”) won’t get you as much information as questions that require engagement, such as “What was your favorite thing you worked on today?”  Also, avoid questions that begin with “why” as this often makes children feel defensive.

  1. Don’t jump in with solutions and advice.  If your child needs to vent, let them vent.  Then, give him a chance to figure out his own solutions, helping him build confidence and competence.  Although we’d love to help solve our children’s problems, doing so will undermine his confidence.  When we simply reflect their feelings and help them brainstorm solutions, our children will find us more useful to talk to, and will continue to seek us out.
  2. Make sure you connect with each of your children every single day, alone.  Even if it is just for a short time, try to set aside a few moments where you can join your child in her space and be in sync with her energy level. If you set up enough regular opportunities to be together and share moments and emotions together, your child will be more likely to volunteer vulnerable emotions when she is feeling them.
  3. Build “special time” with each child into your routine.  In our house, we call them “Mommy dates” or “Daddy dates,” and our boys love that special one-on-one time with us.  I also try to pick up my youngest son from school at least once per week without anyone else in the car for a few more moments of time together.  My youngest son and I have ample opportunities now, because he’s not yet in school, but I also plan to schedule special time with him.  Children will often wait for these routine times with their parents to bring up something that’s been bothering them.
  4. If you don’t get the response you want to your overtures towards your kids, step back and watch how you initiate.  Is your initiation inviting a positive response?  Try to initiate these interactions in a friendly, inoffensive, non-blaming way.
  5. If you make an overture and are greeted with something hurtful – disdain, sarcasm, or blankness – try not to respond with anger.  It is okay, however, to show your vulnerability and hurt.  Later, when you are no longer upset, tell your child how much you wanted to connect and how hurt you were with their response.  Reaffirm how much you love your child, and want to be close, as well as your commitment to a respectful home.
  6. Stay available.  Simply being in the same car together or in the same room folding laundry is an opportunity for interaction.  Try to find a way to be in proximity to each other when you are both potentially available, without it seeming like you are demanding to talk.  And, as mentioned, having established that you are there for your child, and having a secure relationship aids in your child opening up to you.  You may even want to state your availability to your child, such as “I’ll be in the kitchen making dinner if you want me.”
  7. Use indirect communication.  Kids may often open up more during times when eye contact is limited, such as in the car, on a walk, or in the dark.  These are all great times to get kids talking.
  8. LISTEN.  This really should be #1, since it is the single most important part of helping kids open up.  Reflect back on what they’re saying so you they know you understand, and then be quiet so your child can continue talking.

Dr. Markham shares some wonderful tips about how you and your child can improve communication.  For more tips about communicating with your child, check out Kidtelligent!  The Kidtelligent Assessment is a unique tool that gives you indispensable insight into your children’s personality, learning style, and interests, and provides you with information based on your child’s individual results.  To learn more about Kidtelligent, go to www.kidtelligent.com, and make sure to follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Kidtelligent!

Sarah is a guest blogger for Kidtelligent.  She is a soccer-playing, travel-loving, poetry-writing wife, and mother to two high-spirited, sweet, and enthusiastic boys a beautiful newborn daughter.