How To Get Your Kid To Talk To You More:
I’ve often thought that when a child is born, every parent should automatically get a few bonus upgrades to themselves. Tops on the list is one extra hand per child – how many times, busy Mamas, have you literally wished you have two or three more hands so you can literally juggle it all?
But a very close second on that list is the ability to read minds. Specifically, the mind(s) of your child(ren). Until that day comes, I suspect we all find ourselves wishing, sometimes, for more strategies to get your child to open up and talk to you.
I still don’t have the perfect magic bullet for this one. But the reading I’ve done over the years, along with my own parenting experience, has found a few shortcuts that seem to work for at least one of our kids, at least some of the time.
Ready for some tried-and-true strategies to get your child to talk more?
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Proven Tips to Get Your Child to Open Up:
For many parents, it’s as soon as children start to go to school that talking to the parental units becomes passé, If this is when you start to strategize how you’re going to build and maintain the lines of communication with your child, you may already be behind on things!
But fortunately, it’s never too late to work on building those bridges. While it’s easier the earlier you start, at least one of these tactics should help you make progress with your child, whether they’re 5 or 15.
Umm, yeah. REALLY LISTEN to them when they’re talking to you.
Of course, this goes along with teaching them (especially your preschoolers and early-elementary kiddos) about basic conversation manners:
- No, we don’t interrupt other people when they’re talking.
- No, we don’t barge into other people’s conversations.
- If there is something you want or need and Mama’s on the phone, you may have to wait a minute.
But at the same time, PUT DOWN THAT PHONE. You, Mama who occupied all your time breastfeeding with scrolling through your social media feed. You, parent whose phone lives on your bedside table. Who checks your news feed before you even get out of bed, and last thing before you shut your eyes.
Seriously. Put down the darn phone and LISTEN.
I know this sounds really basic, but I’ve been guilty more than once of NOT giving a child my full attention when she’s talking to me. And not because I had a phone in hand, or a computer on lap. In my case, it’s because my kiddos can just ramble on. and. on. when they’re keyed up about something.
Even if your mind is a million miles away. Even if it’s been a long day. And yes, even if it’s late and you’re tired. Pay attention to what they’re saying, before that fountain of words slows down to a trickle, and they’ll be more likely to KEEP talking to you as they get older.
2. Be there.
Of course, it’s hard to really listen to what’s important to them if you’re never there.
Yes, some of us have to work late on a regular basis. (Though it’s a good idea to try to break your boss/workplace of this habit if possible. Or find a more family-friendly workplace if possible.)
Yes, some of us even have to travel regularly for work.
Yes, some of us may no longer be together with our co-parent, and may have to share custody.
That doesn’t mean you can’t call your kids regularly when you’re apart from them. Or text. Or Facetime. Or whatever works for you and for them.
Ask them what’s going on at school, at Scouts, with their team. How the big test/presentation/game/concert went. Who they hung out with at lunch or at recess. How homework is going.
Show that you’re interested in their lives, and that you care. Even if you can’t be right there with them as often as you’d like.
And when you ARE there, for goodness’ sake, (again) be present! Turn off the TV. Ban all devices from the dinner table (if you haven’t already done this). Oh, and while you’re at it, make family dinners (or family breakfasts, or whatever fits your schedules) a habit. On as many days a week as possible.
Carve out some weekly “family time” that’s a standing regular “family date,” where everyone is together and this time together comes above all else. For us, that time is Saturday night dinner, which my husband usually spends the better part of Saturday making.
3. Practice and teach good conversation skills from birth
If you really want your kiddos to talk to YOU, model good behavior in this department as much as you can, starting from birth.
This is where family dinners come in again. When my husband and I married, one of our promises to each other was that we would try to prioritize dinner together as a family, as many nights a week as everyone’s schedule would allow. (For your family, maybe it’s breakfast time, or the daily trip to/from school, or time in the car home from practice.)
One of the things we didn’t anticipate about parenthood was how much social learning takes place over meals. And I’m not just talking the basic manners of “Please pass the salt,” “No thank you,” and “May I please be excused?” (though those are important, too!)
As the girls have gotten older, we’ve worked hard to use mealtimes to teach them about how people converse with each other. (Something with which we’ve had some family challenges thanks to neurodiverse wiring.)
This means that we consciously have to model really basic things with them, like taking turns asking each other to talk about our days at work or school. And then really listening to each other, and asking follow-up questions as appropriate.
4. Create everyday opportunities for conversation
And while family-wide conversations are important, try to make time to have at least a few minutes of one-on-one time with each child, every day.
Be on the lookout for your kiddo’s natural energy patterns throughout the day, and try to be there for them when they’re ready to talk. Also be sure to take advantage of those times that are ready-made for conversation.
One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is that, much as I usually want to know all about school when my kids get home, this is NOT what they want to talk about! When they get in the door, they’re usually hungry and wound up (whether with positive energy or negative stress), and all they want to do is escape for a few minutes. Rehashing the dramas of the day is generally the last thing on their mind.
So instead, I try to have something healthy to eat, already out for them to munch on. And I try to hang out in the kitchen with them while they eat their snack, available if they want to talk, but not pushing it. Most of our conversation after school is more “business” type than anything else – “How was your music lesson? Do you have a lot of homework? Did you get to play with [insert friend’s name here] at recess?”
The time we tend to have better luck with getting them to open up (sometimes) is over the dinner table. But honestly, the time the girls are MOST likely to talk to us – really tell us about their day, how things went, and what’s bothering them – is in the last few minutes before we tuck them into bed.
RELATED POST: How To Get Your Kid To Go To Sleep
We’ve learned to try to leave enough time at bedtime for a good long chat, in case one happens. (Now that the girls are older, the fact that they don’t need so many hours of sleep has definitely helped with this!)
5. Create extraordinary opportunities for conversation, too
Make sure that you also do things together as a family, whenever possible. And look for activities and opportunities that are ripe for conversation.
Take family vacations and road trips together. The important thing isn’t where you go, or how much money you spend (or don’t). A weekend of camping at your nearby state park with borrowed or rented equipment works just fine. So does an afternoon at the local beach.
RELATED POST: 100 Genius Ways to Make Family Tent Camping Easier
If you’re a grandparent and your grandbabies live several states away, visit them as often as you can. Call in between visits. Invite them up to spend time with you. If your grandkids are old enough and game for this, invite them to spend a few days or a whole week “just the two of you” over their summer break from school.
What are some of the other ways we can have “special” opportunities to spend time together (and talk)?
- Go on a hike together, or a walk around the block.
- Or do yard work together.
- Or visit a museum or park together.
- Better yet, cook a meal together, or bake something.
- Or just hang out together playing board games on a rainy day or Friday night.
- Or offer to help (or just watch) on their latest Lego creation.
As you may notice, all these activities have something in common: They’re activities where the conversation takes place as a side benefit, versus taking center stage. Kids can often find this less confrontational. Which is one of the reasons that talking when you’re side by side with them works better than when you confront them (literally and metaphorically) head-on.
It’s OK to have an agenda of things you want to discuss during these visits (as long as you don’t run through it like a lawnmower through a field!). When my extended family goes on vacation together once a year, my mama often has a mental list of things she wants to be sure to discuss with both her children present, and with all her grandchildren.
But it’s a lot easier to get in these conversations over the course of a week, than it is to cram them all into a single phone call!
6. Be the kind of listener your kids want to talk to
Yes, as I noted above, actually listening to them is critical. But there are plenty of “do’s” and “don’t’s” that will increase (or decrease) the chances they’ll open up to you again next time:
- Empathize. Mirror back what they’re saying to you. “It sounds as if you feel like your friend is avoiding you, and you don’t understand why. That must really hurt.”
- Try not to judge. Telling someone they made a wrong choice, or did something wrong, is a great way to be sure they WON’T turn to you the next time they need advice.
- For that matter, try not to offer too much unsolicited advice! If a kiddo is upset about something, there’s a good chance they just want to vent.
- Related, don’t try to “fix” everything for them. This is my biggest sin as a parent. I like to solve problems, and this makes me a little too eager to try to solve other people’s problems for them. For example, I have to remind myself NOT to offer ten retorts to the mean thing someone said on the playground. Because if my child is telling me all about this, chances are good that all they wanted was reassurance and a hug.
- Remind your kids regularly, in words and deeds, that you are a family – and that this means something. Having a family tagline or motto is one way to promote this idea of common identity and values you share, but not the only one. As I recently told one of the girls after a rough day at school, we’re all on her team, and we – parents, teachers, Scout leaders, etc. – are all rooting for her and pulling for her.
7. Notice the silences and what’s not being said
This is the hardest one of all, and I put it last for a reason. It assumes you’re already doing all the other things I listed above. And it’s a fine line between getting your child to open up about something they don’t want to discuss, and inadvertently making them clam up even more.
Sometimes, it’s really important to do the listening equivalent of “reading between the lines.” What’s going on that your child isn’t telling you? And (even though I just said you should NOT try to “fix everything” for them), is there something they really need your help with, but they’re afraid to ask? Or they don’t know how to ask?
So far, most of the conversations we’ve had along these lines with the girls have come as a result of feedback from outside sources. Particularly teachers who notice that something is “off.”
In these cases, it’s especially important to listen, ask questions, and be nonjudgmental.
There is something going on that’s caused a change in your child’s demeanor. Whether it’s something as simple as needing more sleep, or something as drastic as an undiagnosed learning difference. Maybe they’re being bullied. Maybe they’re struggling with something else.
It was a conversation along these lines, sparked by a teacher email last spring, that eventually led to one of our daughters being diagnosed with a learning disability. Subsequent conversations about how much she was struggling, with so many aspects of her schooling, are the reason we moved heaven and earth to find an alternative school setting for her to attend this fall.
While it’s certainly no the right answer for every child, every family, or every situation, there are definitely situations where some children do much better in private schools. If nothing else, the often lower student: teacher ratio (6:1 for Dear Daughter in her new school, versus 25:1 in her class last year) can really make a difference for a child who’s struggling.
Have you used any of these tried-and-true means of getting your child to open up (especially if you have tweens and/or teens)? Which have worked best for you? What other hacks do you use to get your kid to talk to you? Please share your wisdom with the rest of us in the comments!
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