“So, how was school today?” If this dinnertime conversation starter is often greeted by a shrug, it’s probably time to try a different question. Getting kids to open up about their lives can be difficult when they reach grade-school, and nearly impossible as high school approaches. But don’t despair. Take some of these tips to regain your child’s confidence and build a sturdier bridge into their lives.
Deep down, your children want to share their everyday tribulations and feelings with you. Often, the trick is asking the right questions of them. Make sure your questions require real, complex answers, not just “yes” or “no.” Avoid general questions; ask specific ones. Who won capture the flag at recess? Was it anyone’s birthday today? What was for lunch in the cafeteria? Did you see any sports cars on the bus ride? The more specific the question, the more it shows you’re interested in the details of their life. And even if they can’t recall seeing any sports cars on the bus ride, it might remind them about that driver that got angry at another driver and made the gesture that they didn’t really understand. As you can see, asking about unimportant details can often lead to more important stuff.
Once you get your child talking, listen. Good listening requires patience, and when kids open up to you, it requires a particular kind of patience. As your child talks, you’ll probably feel a surge of really great advice build up in you. Wait. Save that advice till later. Keep asking questions until your child unspools the entire situation. If you do this, you’ll ultimately gain a wider perspective than you would have if you jumped in at the beginning; your advice will be better informed and more potent. Most importantly, holding all advice until your child has finished talking proves to them that you’re a good listener. They’ll be a lot more likely to tell you things in the future.
Once you’ve gained your child’s trust as a listener, don’t betray their confidence by telling their secrets. If, for whatever reason, you feel a secret must be told, it’s crucial to ask your kid before you go telling someone else. Even if the secret doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, it may be to your kid, so ask. An even trickier situation: tweens and teens may tell you about bad choices their friends are engaging in, but think twice about picking up the phone to call that friend’s parents. Unless the friend’s behavior is truly dangerous, keep it to yourself.
It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’re the person your child trusts most in the world. But it takes daily determination to prove that you deserve that trust. The only effective way of doing this is to make time to connect with your child, every day. Establish a specific place, a routine, or even a special ritual – anything to get them talking. Work to gain your child’s confidence. It’s worth it.