“Hi, son! How was your day?”
“What happened at school?”
“Anything happen you would like to talk about?”
Sound like a familiar conversation when you pick your kid up?
For our purposes, we will acknowledge conversation between father and child benefits both the father and child. We will acknowledge the importance of verbal communication for the development of our kids from a social and emotional standpoint.
If you have had experiences like the one I shared above, we need to move beyond the “why” and get to the “how”.
OBSERVE: When do you like to talk to others and when do you like to be left alone? Do you want peace and quiet before breakfast? Until you get to work? Do you need some time to decompress after a long day and collect your thoughts without engaging in conversation? Well, our kids have similar preferences. Learn yours and learn theirs. Use that information to determine the best time to engage in meaningful conversation. Many kids do not want to talk about their day at school immediately after leaving, and instead would like to listen to music or shoot some hoops – not a good time to actively engage. Instead, figure out when they are most open. For many, it is at bedtime (see my post about bedtime rituals for some thoughts on this).
ASK QUESTIONS: Would you rather get a lecture or engage in a dialogue? Often, we equate talking to our kids with telling our kids what we think. Instead, observe which questions pique their interest and elicit a response more than a simple “yes” or “no”. Sometime our kids need to hear from us in the lecture format, but talking to them involves a two-way dialogue. Properly worded questions can sometimes teach more than any droning lecture because they encourage our kids to think about choices and the reasons behind them.
INVITE QUESTIONS: We used to have a time before bed where I told my son he could ask me any question he wanted with the promise I would give an honest answer. When he would ask about the divorce, I honestly told him it was not appropriate for me to discuss and went right into my “broken record” explanation. When he would ask a question about an aspect of science I did not know, I told him I would do some research and get back to him. Sometimes he had no questions and sometimes I knew the answer. Encouraging our kids to ask questions seems to make them more comfortable with talking – at least it did with my son.
LISTEN: In those moments you want to really talk to your kids and connect, give them your attention when they talk. Let the phone keep ringing. Do not check your text messages like Pavlov’s dog when the alert sounds. Turn off the television. Engage in eye contact and repeat what they said to you so they know you listened and understood. If our kids sense we do not pay attention to them, why would they talk?
DO SOMETHING ACTIVE WHILE YOU TALK: Throwing a football, going for a walk, or swinging at the park can be great ways (especially with boys) to connect and converse. They still have your attention, but there is just something about walking and talking….
Because we regularly play the role of dad and mom, we need to redouble our efforts to connect with our kids in conversation. They need to express feelings and ask questions, but they may not if the foundations of regular communication do not exist.
My son has recently shared some concerns with me on his own, with no prompting and seemingly out of the blue. I have told him how appreciative I am he asked me and thanked him for trusting me with something bugging him. I do not believe he would have asked had we not developed our communication skills.
Having said that, I still get “fine” and “no” when I pick him up from school. And then he turns on the radio.
When do you find your kids most willing to have a good conversation?