Author Pam Lobley shares how she finds the time to talk to her kids. Read along to learn how you can make meaningful conversations with your children a priority by making small changes in your life.
Can we talk?
At breakfast many years ago, when my oldest was two, I was charging around the kitchen and putting various foods on his highchair tray: a fistful of dry Cheerios, sliced banana, sippy cup of water. He wasn’t really eating though; he just kept clanging his little sneakers against the plastic chair legs and fussing. I finally turned, impatient, and asked him, “What do you want?” And he replied, “A conversation.”
Life is hectic; are we making enough time to have meaningful, or even just silly, conversations? Here are some tips to keep you chatting with your children.
For the very little ones
Narrate your time together. While you push them in the stroller or do simple chores around the house, you can point out interesting sights or actions. “Look how many suds I’m making!” or “See that red cardinal?” Showing the delight we can take in everyday activities is a great way to introduce the conversation. Put your phone away and focus on their sweet faces. Lots of eye contact, while you’re talking to them, will strengthen the bonds between you. From their earliest age, you can model for them how talking means paying attention to the person you are talking with.
Family dinner is a fertile place for conversation. Ask specific questions like, ”What was funny today? What games did you play at recess?” Make sure all the siblings get a chance to speak up; some kids are chattier than others and can hog the conversation. Kids need to learn to listen as well as talk to be successful conversationalists.
The car is another perfect place to converse. Often kids can be spilling over with news (or complaints!) when you pick them up from school or activities, so encourage them to share these with you. You may be in the middle of a stressful day yourself, but try to set it aside to listen. Ask precise questions rather than the easily answered, “How was your day?”
Beware of “mom mode”
I flip into this all too often, and then my entire conversation consists of me reciting the schedule, as in “You have an hour to do homework and then we have the dentist and when we get home you can help set the table and then after dinner I thought we could watch another episode of . . .” Help! Stop me before I plan again. Ask a question and then stop talking to listen.
Talking to teens
Teens have a reputation for not talking, but that is not always the case! They are often brimming over with opinions. As their world expands, they may try out lots of attitudes and ideas, many of which you might not agree with. But that’s part of the fun. Listen to them talk about politics, history, fashion, music, video games, etc. Try not to judge them when they say outrageous things; this is your window into how they are growing and learning. Whenever possible, compliment their viewpoints or insights to encourage them to keep talking.
Resist the urge to create “teachable moments”
I know, I know, they’re all the rage. But if we turn every comment they make into a lecture about the nature of rainclouds, or the need for good manners, or the theme of Huck Finn, they are going to stop talking. Can you blame them?
You can certainly share your own ideas or some fun stories from your own life. This can be a fruitful way to foster connection. However, I have found that my kids would rather talk about themselves than listen to me talk. Is that just me?
Know your child: Are they more thoughtful and slower to respond? You may need to let the silence linger between you so they have a chance to form their thoughts. I have one son who constantly interrupts and another one who never does. He will only speak when there is a break in the conversation, so I try to leave plenty of room for him to jump in.
If your teen is reticent, try talking during an activity. Car rides are great places to talk with teens because looking out the window seems to make it easier for them to express their thoughts. You can also clean the garage, paint a bench, walk the dog . . . anything to soften the focus on the conversation and help them feel safer.
When times are tough—your child is having friend trouble, is anxious, got rejected for a spot on the team—keep the conversation going. Ask them how they’re doing. They may shut you down, which hurts, but keep trying. They need you. It kills them to admit it, but it’s true. You can give advice, of course, but sometimes an ear to vent to is what they really need. If they don’t initiate a conversation, try honestly saying, “I’m checking in. How are things with your friends? Your moods?” It can be painfully awkward but press on through the tension. Conversing often and freely is a habit to start early and keep practicing. Someday they are going to go off to college or move out and you want them to feel comfortable calling you up and talking through anything. You are investing in the future; there are fewer greater pleasures in life than sharing wonderful conversations with your adult children.
Our children want the same things we do from a good conversation: to feel heard, to be entertained, to learn something, or to laugh. Our kids are our favorite people (most of the time), so the privilege of talking with them is one that should be nurtured and cherished.