Keep the Conversation Comin

Oct 3, 2013

Parents long to know what’s on their kids’ minds, but getting kids to talk about those things can be a tough nut to crack.

But there’s one time when kids are likely to have a great deal to say, and that’s when in they’re smack-dab in the thick of an interesting experience. If you want to hear your kids talk, plan to be present with them when something’s going on.  Here are some ideas:

Play a game together.  Crazy Eights, badminton, checkers—any game that requires you to both be engaged. Don’t be afraid to show your good-natured competitive side to add to the fun.  Even when my son was a non-communicative teen, he would open up over a game of Gin Rummy. 

Take on a task. Clean out the mystery stash under her dresser and make jokes about what you find there.  No judgment, just laughter as you guess the age of the sandwich or dirty sock she outgrew last year.  This tactic works if you can inhibit the look of horror that might occur on your face.

And of course, family outings inspire conversation. Miniature golf or a picnic in the park provide fodder for conversations.  Kids are sure to comment on (and chuckle about) your clumsy putt or the ants threatening to carry off the potato salad.

Too many conversations between parents and children are loaded with judgment. When we ask “How was school?” they know we’re hoping to hear they aced their test or made the team.  Their often boring reports embarrass them and they fear they will disappoint us.

But conversations between people sharing an experience are alive in the moment.  And before you know it, they’re telling you about the kid at school who scares them or something they think they’d really like to do when they grow up.

Priming the pump with small talk around shared experiences is a good way to open the floodgates of serious communication.  A pattern of conversation keeps the doors open for when we have something more significant to say to each other.