By: Michele Borba, Ed.D., GALTime.com Parenting Expert
Before I had kids, I was a teacher. I know that there are certain students teachers will never forget. There are also some mothers we will never - as in ever - forget. (And I'm betting I have every teacher who reads this nodding and smiling. Right?)
Over the years I've watched how some moms just seem to have the knack of getting their kids to open up. The women often confided how fortunate they felt that their children sought them out as confidantes, but I knew it wasn't luck at all. Those parents really knew a few tips to the art of getting their kids to talk.
Here are a few of their best kept secrets, as well as others I've picked up over the years that help when I'm chatting with teens. You can use them to help your kids open up, talk more, and even share what's really going on in their lives. If you start incorporating these strategies now, your kids will not only be more likely to open up about what's going on in their lives...better yet: they'll also (hopefully) be more likely to seek you out as their sounding board for some of those tougher adolescent issues later on. And believe me, will you ever be glad they confided in you!
- 1. Don't push. Think of friends you really feel comfortable talking to. They're usually calm, open, and not pushy. Use those same listening strategies whenever you're with your child.
- 2. Honor silence. Research shows that some kids need a bit longer to open up. So don't give up during those lulls. Just wait a little longer.
Related: 5 Healthy Ways to Help Kids Express Anger
- 3. Halt the criticism. If you need to bite your tongue to stop those critical, judgmental comments, do so. Don't come off like a prosecutor or judge. Nothing stops a conversation faster than those "You should have" kind of comments.
- 4. Listen during active times. Some kids-particularly boys-are more responsive to talking when they are doing something active. So find active things your child likes to do whether it is kicking around a soccer ball, playing Old Maid, building Legos, drawing, or shooting baskets. Use those active times for those chats. You just may find your kid is more receptive to talking.
- 5. Talk about your kid's interests. Try tailoring the conversation around your child's interests: her CD collection, his baseball cards, her Barbie doll, his iPod downloads. Doing so might be a great entrée to discussing what's really going on in your son or daughter's life. One of my clients admitted that she read Teen People just to find some tidbit about some hot celeb to chat about with her daughter.
Related: Questions You Should NEVER Ask Your Teen/Tween
- 6. Go to your kid's zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time, try going to a place your kid enjoys: A mall to look for shoes, the batting cage to practice his swing, the golf range to hit a bucket of balls, a Starbucks for a latte. Your teen will be more relaxed because he's in his territory and just might be more likely to open up to you.
- 7. Ask specific questions. Kids say generic: "How was your day?" type questions are a big turn off. If you want to invite conversation ask more specific questions: "Who did you sit next to during lunch?" "What story did your teacher read today?" "What game did you play at recess?" You'll be far more likely to get a response because the question conveys your real interest.
- 8. Ask questions that elicit more than one-word responses. Make skillful use of your questions so that your child must respond with more than a one-word answer: "How would you have ended that book?" "What would you have done differently in the game?" "What are your feelings about…?"
There is no one secret that works for all kids. The trick is discovering what works best for your child. Listening with full presence is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. It requires only such small intentional actions as looking at your child, nodding gently, leaning in slightly to appear interested -all of which your child will perceive as "My mom cares." "My dad listens." I can tell them anything." Make listening a habit now and your child will seek you out as a sounding board and loyal confidante forever.
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