Some kids, usually extroverts, seem to be born talkers. Not only will they talk about anything to anyone, they also often have the ability to turn even the most mundane experience into a fun, energetic story. Other kids act as if perhaps they are paying someone a tax for every word spoken. Getting an “Okay” out of them in response to an open ended question can feel like a major victory.
In the “children should be seen and not heard” era, quiet children were probably valued. For Christian parents, however, it’s almost impossible to know where to adjust your parenting to fit the needs of your children if they won’t tell you their thoughts and emotions. Of course, the more pressure you apply to quiet children, the more likely they are to retreat even farther from engaging in conversation.
The wisest advice I ever heard given to the parent of a quiet child was to think of the child as a little bird. If you wanted to hand feed the bird, what would you do? You’d be present, available, quiet and non-threatening. The same applies to encouraging a quiet child to talk. You have to appear available, ready and non-threatening at the moment they want to tell you something. If you appear too busy, not interested or frustrated at their “interruption” of whatever you are doing, they will scurry off without saying very much. They’ll also be much less likely to attempt to talk to you again in the future.
Fortunately, there are some fun ways to be available and approachable while giving your kids rather large chunks of opportunity to open up to you. Most of them also involve an activity that will distract them from their fears, so that many kids will even surprise themselves at how easily they begin sharing what is on their hearts and minds. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Take a long walk or hike. Nothing so arduous that you physically can’t talk, but long enough to give your kids time to relax and start talking. You will have to experiment a bit to see if a familiar route or hiking somewhere totally new causes them to open up more.
- Sit by a pretty stream. Allow time to wade or look for pretty rocks or fish. Bring a snack, so after you finish playing in the water, you can just sit, relax and take in the beauty. (Looking up at the clouds or the stars from a shared blanket works in a similar way.)
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle (bonus points for by a fire!). Set up a card table in a cozy room and pull out a jigsaw puzzle. Keep two or three chairs at the table. This is great for encouraging multiple conversations over a period of time. You can start working on the puzzle and wait until your child joins you or notice when your child is working on the puzzle and join him or her.
- Cook something together. Kids are drawn to a kitchen with someone cooking like moths to a flame! To keep them in there longer and creating more openings for them to talk, engage them in the process. Decorating sugar cookies, making mini pizzas or tasks like shelling beans allow plenty of room for conversations.
- Share a craft activity or work on crafts side by side. Most crafts are engaging, but not so difficult that conversation is annoying. You can either work on a project together or work on individual projects side by side. Be careful to avoid projects like complicated knitting and crocheting patterns that require full concentration.
- Read books together and talk about them. This one can take a little more planning on your part, but can also result in more targeted conversations. Read the book to your child, talking about it as you go. Even older children and teens often enjoy being read to from chapter books…a certain amount of time or a chapter a night. Or, if all else fails, both of you can read the same book independently and then discuss it. Make sure to have lots of open ended questions to ask and be prepared to share your observations, too. This may take practice to get proficient at using books as a platform for meaningful conversations, but there is a lot of free information on line to get you started. Just Google something like “thought questions for xyz book”.
You may need to experiment for a bit to find the activity that encourages your kids to talk the most. Each of your kids may have a different favorite. You may also find it’s better to provide separate opportunities where you can be alone with one of your kids and other activities you do together and allow all of them to talk at once. It’s a little more challenging, but for some kids the extra cover of sibling comments gives them the courage to speak, too. (Others will be even more quiet with siblings around.) Have fun with it, but get your kids talking!