One of the top mysteries for many parents is how to get their kids to talk to them. Oh, their kids are respectful enough to answer questions when asked. It’s just that the vast majority of the answers are one word or perhaps even a grunt. Some parents just give up and hope their kids will eventually grow up to be adults who have wonderful conversations with their parents.
To be effective as a Christian parent though, you have to know what your child is not only thinking, but also what he is holding in his heart. You can try to discipline behaviors and guess at any potential heart or faith issues. Honestly though, the best way to really help your child grow in his faith and develop a godly heart is for him to share with you what he is thinking. Which brings us back to the original problem.
Fortunately, there are ways to get your children to talk to you. Even about the important things in life. There are certain types of questions that are more likely to get your child talking than others. Before I share them though, you need to keep a few things in mind.
- You have to really listen to their responses to your questions. I have seen many a parent zone out as their child begins to reveal her heart. Often it’s because the parent really wanted a short answer after all. Or the child shared things which were important to her, but to an adult seemed ridiculously minor. The quickest way to shut down your child and keep her from wanting to share her heart and thoughts with you is to not really listen to everything she has to say to you.
- You need to remember what they tell you. Nothing aggravates a child more than to be telling you the third important story of the week about Susie or the crazy word problem in math, only to have you interrupt and ask who Susie is. It hurts and can cut your child to the very core to think what is important to her is inconsequential to you. She knows on some level it isn’t your life, but she wants you to at least care enough to remember important details. If you have a sketchy memory, write it down. If necessary, at some point admit to your child you have trouble keeping everyone straight and ask her to help create a chart so you can remember everyone’s name and some basic details about them.
- You need to acknowledge their emotions. As a person who is passionate about many things, nothing makes me madder than someone trying to talk me out of my emotions when I am initially sharing them. Yes, there are times when I need to be “talked off of the roof” and calm down, but during the initial venting you should not interrupt and begin that process. Once your child is totally finished venting, do your best to empathize with his emotions. (“I can understand why that would make you angry”) Ask more questions if you need additional information. Then and only then can you begin to help your child sort through the possible options for his response to the situation and guide him towards godly answers.
- You need to remember if you have not been having meaningful conversations with your child until this point in your relationship, this process will take a lot of time, effort and patience on your part. If you have broken the three previous rules consistently over the years with your child, I have bad news for you. You have trained your child to keep his thoughts to himself. Not only that, but also he has decided you are not interested in what he has to say and he probably does not trust you to change at this point. I would seriously suggest taking your child somewhere special and apologize for not being a better listener. Tell him the steps you are prepared to take to change. Then do what you promise and give him a lot of time to begin to trust your promises.
So what are the best types of questions to get a child talking? Here are some of my favorites:
- Ask “what happened” questions and be prepared to back them up with previous knowledge. Some kids can turn even the most open ended question into a one word response. If “What happened during recess today?” gets a grunt, follow it with “Well, I know you have been trying to get across the monkey bars. How far did you get today?” Then respond to their response appropriately and consider a follow-up question. You don’t want to grill here, but show interest.
- Ask their opinion on something and be prepared to offer yours. Kids and teens love to think you respect them enough to value their opinions. If they say “I don’t know”, either tell them someone else’s controversial ideas or share your own and then ask what they really think about the subject. Often with teens outside of my family, I will need to reassure them I want to know what they really think and not what they think I want to hear before I will get a complete and honest response. Be careful not to over react if you don’t agree with the opinion given.
- Ask them what their friends think about something. This will often give you very interesting conversations. It opens a window on your children’s friends and sometimes what your children think will be revealed as they share what their friends think about a topic. (“Sharon thinks it’s a good idea, but I think we might regret it later.”)
- Ask them about their passion. Ask questions about their latest project or ask them how to do something they know how to do, but you don’t. Not only will this open the conversation, but it may lead you to working together on a project. This might give you even more opportunities to talk together.
- Sit silently close by and do something that is easily interrupted. I have a friend who calls this the “little bird approach”. Sometimes your child just needs to be in a talkative mood. When the mood strikes her, if you are close by and easy to talk with, you may just be surprised how much your child will share with you about a variety of topics.
- Try texting. I know. It’s the death of true conversation, etc. Unfortunately, for many kids, this is the only way they will begin to open up to you. Don’t let it replace “real” conversations, but use it as another touch point if necessary.
I truly believe it is almost impossible to be the best parent you can be unless you are listening to your children’s thoughts and hearts. Take some time today and start a conversation with your child. You never know where it may lead.