Published September 1, 2018
One of the biggest keys to successful parenting is establishing and maintaining good communication. No matter how young or how old your child is, you can employ simple strategies to encourage conversation, listen actively and connect on their level.
Pick your timing.
We’ve all heard “pick your battles,” but when it comes to communication, picking your timing is crucial. Kids will naturally have a time during their day when they are most likely to chat. Think over your daily routine, do you have trouble getting your little one to sleep because they suddenly have lots to share? Is the food still on the plate at dinner long after everyone else is done because they love to talk during mealtime? Do you have a stream of constant conversation right when they walk in the door? Do you hear all of life’s details from the back seat as you drive to and fro? Identifying and capitalizing on these spontaneous conversation times will open the door wide to being able to learn about their interests, struggles and victories, as well as their general day-to-day updates. You can also create an environment for candid sharing by planning one-on-one activities.
Slow down and listen.
When the conversational mood strikes, it can be fleeting. Phones, televisions and other electronics can squash the talk time fast, so do what you can to eliminate them as distractions, and mentally and physically switch over to talk time. Focus on statements and questions that lead to additional information. Phrases such as, “tell me more,” “what did you do next?” and “what did you enjoy most?” will encourage your child to add more details and keep things flowing along nicely. If the schedule at the time does not allow for an entire conversation, ask for a reschedule—“I want to hear more. Can we talk about this at dinner tonight?”—and make sure to follow up.
What is your role?
Part of the communication pact involves identifying what response best fits the situation. Is your child asking for help in solving a problem, just needing to vent or simply wanting to connect? Keeping an eye on their body language will help you assess their needs. If you have advice to give, make sure to listen thoroughly at first, gather the details and take your time in responding. Showing positive interest throughout the conversation and keeping criticism and blame at a low will help your kids feel like they can talk things through with you and can pay big dividends as they navigate life.
Finally, keep in mind that engaging with your child through the happy things, the seemingly inconsequential details, the cheerful voluntary chatter that fills the day, will open the door wide so they feel more comfortable sharing the bigger things in life. It helps create a bond that endures through the ups and downs.