Every parent wants to know what’s going on inside the lives and minds of their kids. Especially when they’re at school.
One thing you find as a parent is just when you think you’ve got your relationship going well, it all changes.
You may have stopped asking yes or no questions and moved on to “So, what was the BEST thing about school today?” But before you know it, that too gets an “eh” or “play time”. Not quite the information you were after…
And if you have a teenager, keeping secrets is a favourite pastime.
Getting the basics right
If you want kids to talk you need to pick the right time. If they have a scowl on their face, that’s not the right time. Nor is the end of the week or when they’ve just walked off the pitch after a big loss. Parents who have good conversations with their kids look for opportunities.
Timing is crucial. So keep an eye out for signs that your child wants to talk. If they’re snuggling in on the couch or telling a story, you’re already halfway there.
Give them your full attention. In our busy lives, we can find that our kids want to talk while we’re trying to get ready for work or put dinner together. As much as you can, stop where you are and look at them.
And be mindful of giving them a means of escape. Kids will often talk longer if they feel they’re in control of the conversation. If they can walk off when they’re ready or pop their earbuds in, you may hear more than if you corner them in the car.
Questions that get answers
With perfect conditions, it comes down to the careful choice of words. Here are a few questions to get the conversation going:
- If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
- If you were invisible where would you go and what would you do?
- Is there something I can do better that I am not doing now?
- What is your most favourite food in the whole world and why?
- What is something we do as a family now that you really enjoy?
- If we were all to plan a family holiday where would you like to go?
- What could our family do that would make the world a better place?
- Who is or was your favourite teacher? Why?
- What special thing or trick do you know that you could teach me?
- What is the best way for me to help you when you feel grumpy?
- Who is your best friend and why?
- Are you popular? Why or why not? Would you like to be?
- Can you name three things that you really like about yourself that have nothing to do with what you look like?
- When do you feel the most proud of who you are?
- What do you think happens after someone dies?
Other ways to get kids talking
Asking too many questions can earn you a blank stare, so if your kids are onto your game, try another tack:
- Tell a story. Re-telling a serious or funny story can lead to a chain reaction of similar or related stories.
- Give them a scenario. Sometimes if there is silence in the car or at the dinner table, you can throw out a hypothetical scenario and ask what they would do.
These conversations can help kids mentally prepare for future situations and practice problem solving. Just like sportspeople mentally rehearse their moves, we all make better decisions when we’re not in the heat of the moment.
How to keep kids talking
Once a discussion is going, keep it going by using a few counselling tricks:
- Say back to them the basics of what they’ve told you. It will prompt them to say more, without asking any questions.
- Let them correct you. Clarifying small details helps to make the discussion engaging. They’ll often reveal more if they know you’re paying attention.
- Try not to jump to conclusions or interrupt. Don’t panic! Let their reaction guide you and wait to have the full story.
- Ask them how they felt or how could they have acted different.
Whatever you do, be thankful when your kids do talk. Appreciate the conversations you do have, and be willing to listen when they come to you.