Creating a climate in which your child feels free to communicate is very important. For some children talking comes easily. These are the children who come home from school and tell you everything that happened at school that day. Other children, however, say very little and you have to ‘drag’ things out of them. Even if something significant happened, they don’t say much.
Having more than one child, we certainly have both kinds! With one, everything pours out the minute they jump into the car after school. For the other, his face says that something is troubling him, but you need to work really hard to help him talk about it. Remember, however, that some children need time before they are ready to talk about what may be bothering them. In that case, let them know you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk.
Finding creative ways to encourage your child to talk can be very useful as it keeps the communication lines flowing. When we create a climate in which children are accustomed to communicating, it makes it easier for them to talk about both ‘little’ and ‘big’ things.
Helpful Hints to Encourage Communication
Here is a list of things we use with our children that have yielded rewarding outcomes. Look at them and see which you can use to encourage communication between you and your child.
Don’t just wait for something big to happen to talk to your child. Talk about everyday, trivial things as well. Look for opportunities to start conversations. Entertain the imaginary journeys they go on or what may seem to be ‘nonsense’ talk to you. I find my kids enjoy it when I join them on their imaginary journeys. Talk about anything. Have conversations about things that are of interest to them as well. Creating a climate where you and your child are comfortable talking to each other, makes it easier when you have to engage about bigger issues.
Learn the Art of Listening
When children feel that they are really being listened to, they are more likely to talk about things that matter to them. Listening to children means acknowledging what they say, being empathic and not being quick to judge or offer advice.
In spite of knowing how important listening is, I often do not listen and hear my kids shout in frustration, “You not listening!” What helped me was to make a decision that I was going to be a better listener. If your child has something to talk about and you can’t really give them your full attention, rather make a time when you can really listen. Children tend not to talk to us when they feel that we are not really paying attention to what they are saying.
Be Non-threatening in Your Approach
To encourage conversation between you and your child, it is important that you are non-threatening in your approach. Asking questions is a nice way to encourage communication and it is also a nice way of assessing what is happening in your child’s life without being overbearing. However, how you phrase these questions is important as asking direct questions could be experienced as threatening by your child and could cause them to say little.
Be Specific while Asking Questions
Using vague or general questions such as “how was school today? “, could yield an equally vague answer such as “nice”, which offers very little useful information. I try to ask specific questions such as “What was the best and the worst part about your day today?” This is a nice way of finding out what happened at school that day or anywhere else for that matter. Our children have become familiar with this question and spontaneously talk about the best and worst part of their days. Other ways of phrasing this question is to ask your child what made them happy or what made them sad at school that day.
Ask “What If” Questions
If your child is not talking and you’re concerned that something is worrying them, then try the ‘what if questions’ as a way of helping them talk about it – “If you could change anything in your day to day, what would you change?” or “What if you could wave a magic wand over your day, what would be different?” I like the miracle question – ‘What if a miracle happened whilst you were sleeping. What would be different in your day?”
Observe and State What You See
I find this another very helpful and non-threatening way of getting children to talk. What it simply means is that you observe your child’s mood or behavior and reflect what you see – “You seem sad today. I wonder what’s troubling you.” Sometimes this is enough to get a child to talk. Try not to interrupt and be quick to give advice when your children do speak as this may tend to discourage them from disclosing things to you.
You and Your Child Focus on Communication
These activities are designed to help us, as parents, improve communication with our kids. Take some time where you can focus on enhancing communication in the home. You can use these activities to help you.
Find something you and your child can use when they feel that you are not listening. It could be something like, “Mommy/Daddy, put on your listening ears”. You then put on your ‘pretend ears’ and ‘close’ your mouth with ‘pretend sticky tape’. Your child now knows that they have your undivided attention.
Power Point: “Let’s listen and then speak”
Power points cement the message. Teach this powerpoint to your children and together, repeat it throughout the week, as often as you can. Put actions to go with the words. You can touch your ears and then touch your thumb to your fingers to make an open and closed movement.
Goofy Game: ‘Let’s Connect’
First make a ‘telephone’ – It is easy and quick to do and you can even ask your child to do it, if they are not too young. Take 2 polystyrene cups and make a hole in the bottom of each. Now thread a piece of string from one hole to the other and knot it on the inside. Use this to have a conversation and to practice listening and speaking to each other.
You can use the game to teach your child that each of you had a chance to speak whilst the other person had to listen. Tell them that what they have to say is important to you and you’ll do your best to listen. This is also a good time to talk about good communication rules like:
Only one person can speak at a time;
While one person is speaking, the other must listen without interrupting.