If you want your kids to talk to you, don’t ask them questions.
Kids and husbands have a lot in common—both hate questions. Husbands don’t have the nerve to tell their wives how much they detest the why word. Kids? Boys will grunt a nonsensical response, girls will flash a dramatic eye-roll, and both will focus back on their iPhones within three seconds.
“But Dr. Leman, I think it’s very important to ask my child how his day was when he gets home from school,” you say.
Okay, let’s replay that usual dog-and-pony show.
You: “How was your day?”
You: “What did you do?”
End of conversation.
Now, wasn’t that stimulating? You’re frustrated, and he’s hightailed it to his room to text his buddies like a woodpecker with a bad case of ADHD. The slamming door is his signal of systematically shutting you out of his life.
Why? Think about it. Do you want to be asked questions right when you come home from work or a night out with friends? Neither does he.
“If I don’t ask questions, I’ll never find out anything that’s going on in my kid’s life,” you say.
Kids—even alien creatures like adolescents—actually want to feel included and understood by their family. They crave unconditional love. They desire to be valued, respected, and taken seriously.
That flat out isn’t true. Kids—even alien creatures like adolescents—actually want to feel included and understood by their family. They crave unconditional love. They desire to be valued, respected, and taken seriously. Attempting to extract information through interrogation isn’t respectful. Saying things like, “We need to talk,” is an ironclad technique to guarantee a clamped-shut mouth (again, similar to husbands). Parental lectures and reminders fall on deaf ears because kids become parent-deaf.
So how do you get your kids to talk? Try these three winning strategies.
Offer short statements.
Your 13-year-old looks teary-eyed after school. Your Mama Bear instinct rises. Who would dare hurt my little cub? You force your reaction down and instead say quietly, “I can tell you had a rough day. If and when you want to talk about it, I’m all ears.”
You don’t press or pursue her when she drops her backpack in a heap on the kitchen floor and goes off to her room by herself. You’ve invited her to share when she’s ready, and now you wait. Believe me, when she isn’t forced, she will share…on her own time table. When she does, you’ll learn far more about her, her world, and her stresses than you’ve ever dreamed.
Say, “Tell me more about that.”
Kids can be illogical, creative, and as dumb as mud. But when they throw you a curveball, you don’t have to react with your emotions. You can choose to respond. The simple phrase “Tell me more about that” stated calmly is a great door opener.
Your 9-year-old announces, “I want to go live with Daddy.”
That’s impossible because your ex now lives in South America, and there’s a lot you could spout about that idea. Instead you say, “I bet you miss your daddy. Tell me more about that.” You find out “Take your daddy to school” day is next week, and that your son didn’t want to tell you because he knew you’d feel bad.
Your 15-year-old declares at dinner she’s going to a pop concert in a different state. You swallow the mashed potatoes with the “What on earth are you thinking?” harangue that immediately pops into your head, and instead say, “You must really like that group. Do you have a CD of theirs I can listen to tomorrow on my way to work or a song on your iTunes playlist?” You learn not only about her current music tastes but her friends, the peer pressure she’s under, and a whole lot more in the next 24 hours before her BFF decides they’re no longer BFFs and the event is off.
Solicit their opinions.
Asking for an opinion is different from asking questions. Everyone, including children and husbands, loves to share their opinion. However, most families have that alpha firstborn who excels in nearly every area and dominates the sibling group. Telling the child who grows up in the shadow of his older sibling, “I’d love to know what you think,” is like winning the lottery for him.
So pull aside that overshadowed child and say, “May I ask your opinion on something?”
“Sure, Dad, what?”
“Is it me, or is your sister a little over the top?”
Wow, someone knows how I feel and what I’m up against every day, your overshadowed child thinks. Suddenly the 14-year-old who’s usually as mute as an Egyptian sphinx is talking nonstop.
Everyone wants to feel valued, to be respected, and to contribute to the family. If you want your kid to talk, invite her in with short statements, say, “Tell me more,” and solicit his opinion.
I guarantee you’ll be having such stimulating two-way conversation that you won’t even miss the old grunts and eye-rolls.