Welcome back to my Reflections Thursdays post in which I’m reflecting on happiness, wellness, health and being your best self and mom!
As our lives get busier and busier, I find that I can go days without ever having a heart-to-heart conversation with one of my kids. By conversation, I don’t mean the daily “what’s your homework” type of check-in, but rather the deeper type of conversation where my child is really opening up to me about his feelings. Because communicating with kids is such a priority and a challenge, I was thrilled when my friends from The Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms approached me with this guest post. Read on for some valuable insights on how to get a conversation going with your child.
Communication and sharing is the life blood of relationships. When you first become a parent, you just can’t wait for your baby to utter that first “Mama” or “Dadda.” Suddenly your adoration for your bundle of joy reaches levels you did not know even existed. You coax and coach new words until in a blink of an eye, your toddler’s constant chatter becomes the soundtrack of your life. You wonder if your little one will ever stop talking. Like ever.
Well, they do. As kids grow and attend school, they become more and more their own selves with their own relationships and their own story lines. When the majority of their day is spent away from you rather than with you, you shift from orchestrator of their lives to cheerleader and logistical support. Just when you need them to share the most is when they clam up.
So what do you do when every open-ended question is met with a “fine”? Just like you taught your kids to say words, you need to teach them to how to converse. And it’s really not that overwhelming. Just like for most of life, The Golden Rule applies here too: treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Do you like to be pummeled with questions the second you walk in the door?
Do you like for people to interrupt you while you’re trying to focus on a task?
Do you ever have a good feeling when someone says, “We need to talk”?
We’re going to answer all of those with a resounding “No!” and we think you may too.
The key, really, is to create a space for conversation. We are huge fans of the sit-down family meal, but if you have more than one kid, the atmosphere can be so boisterous that some voices can get lost in the scuffle over the last corn muffin.
We believe each child deserves his or her own share of your attention. Here are 5 tips for creating that space for conversation.
1. Don’t just sit there, get moving
The best conversations happen when you are actively involved in doing something or going somewhere with your child. Wash the dishes together, pick up a basketball, hit the trail. It’s amazing how much better “You want to shoot some hoops?” is received than “Let’s sit down and talk.” There’s something about the movement and lack of forced eye contact that really primes the words to flow. If you can wait patiently enough, your kid will even kick off the conversation.
2. Practice silence
Learn to get comfortable with pauses and quiet. When your child is sharing something, don’t jump in before they’re finished talking. We parents have a tendency to hear of a problem and want to fix it. Problem solving is just part of your job, right? Ehhhh, not really. Your whole endgame is nurturing human beings to leave the nest and soar on their own. So while it’s tempting and natural to blurt out, “You need to do X!” because of course they do (and you’ve encountered this problem before and know how you fix it) you need to take a breath and stay silent instead.
3. Let your Child Lead the Way
Well, almost silent. Practice active listening by becoming a master of the non-committal, “mmmmm.” It will get you more intel than any question ever could. And when your child does finish sharing, the first words you form should be a reflective question such as “What do you think you should do?”. By doing this, you are leading your child to create his own solutions and solve his own problems, versus solving them for him, which is a huge step towards greater self-confidence and resilience.
And yes, doing all of this is much harder than it sounds, so start practicing now. Let your spouse and friends be your guinea pigs.
4. Grab your openings
Master the art of active listening and you will eventually be rewarded with a chance to speak. If you see an opening for something important that you want to discuss with your child, accept the offer and dive in. The list of things you’ll need to discuss with your child is long: puberty, alcohol, tobacco, and dating to name a few. When an opportunity arises as a natural part of a conversation, use this blessed segue to save yourself from a checklist of Talks with a capital “T.” Never approach your conversation with a checklist.
Also, watch for cues from your child to discern when they’ve had enough. Epic eye rolls or glassy, vacant expressions are usually good indicators that you’ve crossed over from conversational to correctional and confrontational. Which brings us to our final piece of advice . . .
5. Make it a Routine
Do yourself a favor and instill this “space for conversation” as a routine early on. Make it a natural part of your lives when your kids still think you’re pretty awesome, and you’ll be paving the way for a smoother ride through the teen years. If you’re spending time together regularly enough, you’ll be able to dispense bite-sized morsels of your wonderful wisdom, no awkward “Talks” needed.
But whatever you do, don’t announce with the pomp of a royal herald “Now we will institute the habit of a weekly time of sharing.” You do have to hold some cards close in this action-packed game of parenting.
For more conversation tips that are age-specific, check out How To Get Conversations With Your Kids Rolling.
– Ellen and Erin