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"How was your day?" I asked my son.
"Fine" came the pat reply.
"Did you do anything special?"
"How was soccer?" I persisted.
What was with these one word replies! When my son was younger, I was the center of his universe. He would talk nineteen-to-a-dozen telling me everything going on in his world. I thought it would always be so. Boy, was I wrong!
I knew kids go through these phases as their world expands but I also strongly believed that it was very important that they talked to me and knew they could tell me anything. The only way to really ensure that was to make it a habit - an integral part of my day and theirs. Not as simple as it seemed! Especially when the other party spoke in mono-syllables!
Here are 6 tricks that really helped change that:
Ask questions that require a longer response. Instead of asking "How was school?", I started to ask, "Tell me three special things that happened in your day today", when I saw them after school. Works wonderfully for kids of all ages. They may start out by complaining and saying "Nothing happens mom!" but, give it a day or two. Keep asking. Soon, they will be ready with a list of three things and you can get the conversation ball rolling!
Make it a conversation, not an interview! Each time you ask a question, make sure you answer that question as well. "You know what, I had three special things in my day too.." will work just fine.
Listen but don't stop them from being upset or angry or heart-broken. Simply be a listener who is on their side and allow them to vent if they need it. Resist the urge to instantly react or point out their mistake in the scenario.
Don't pass judgement for at least 6 hours after the conversation. I know as a parent it is our job to guide, correct, teach and it is important that we do that. Just, give them a little downtime. Offer solutions a bit later so the child does not feel instant judgement as he is sharing.
Keep your child's trust. Sometimes, a child will tell you something about a friend in school whose mother you know. Unless it involves child safety, do not share this information with the other child's mother. No matter how funny or cute the story might seem to you. If you want to share it, ask for your child's permission.
Use bedtime to your advantage. Clear your schedule at bedtime. Messaging can wait as can kitchen clean-up. Lay down next to your child for a few minutes before they fall asleep. That time is precious, when the guard is down, the events of the day have percolated. Put your arms around them and, more often than not, the troubles of the day will pour out and you will be expected to sympathize and sort them out!
I know we all hope that our children will come talk to us when it matters most in their lives. In order to ensure that, we need to let them know that we are always there to listen to them and to understand their troubles. Even though they may not always feel like sharing them.