As a parent it is often difficult to pull back and wait for your child to divulge the intimate details of their day and how those moments affected them on an emotional basis. Of course, the fact that your child is being so secretive about his daily experiences already sends parents, especially the overbearing types like me, into a tail spin. Thoughts like, is my child being bullied, having trouble with friendships, or falling short in certain subjects, race through my mind, and it takes every bit of willpower for me to check my own feelings at the door when I greet him and wait for his cues. Unfortunately, sometimes those cues never come and as a parent you are left with not having a real sense of what your kid's internal life is all about.
But without playing 20 questions every day, what is the alternative, wait for your tween to approach you when she's comfortable or at her breaking point?
Instead of saying, “How was your day?” which might give me an answer like, “Fine,” I try to ask a question that will get the conversation going like, “What happened at school today,” or “How's your friend so-and-so doing?” And then I just listen. Also, since I work at home and I am on the computer a lot, I try to put down what I am doing so that when she comes in and she wants to talk to me, I am here. I also try and plan a once a month mom and daughter day with each of my kids and believe on those days I learn more about my kids' lives than I do the entire month.
A parent who is trying to get their child to open up more, should focus on topics that pose absolutely NO conflict. This varies from family to family but can include: sports, food or clothes. Less parental talk often leads to more responses from kids; whereas tons of questions lead kids to shut down, while a simple opener, often in the form of a statement, can get things started. The best way to avoid being that parent who is unsuccessful at attempting conversation with their tween is to make conversation – especially give and take discussions – a regular occurrence. This way questions do not seem as intrusive.
Check out these additional tips to keep the conversations between parents and tweens flowing!
- Ask questions that invite more than a one word response. Instead of “How was school today?” ask, “Tell me about the best thing and the worst thing that happened to you today.
- When listening to your child make sure to seek to understand before being understood. In other words, don't interrupt and after they are finished speaking, paraphrase what you heard and ask if you got it right. Then you can respond with your point of view.
- Validate what your tween is saying even if it is exaggerated or a mis-perception. Validation does not mean agreement. It simply lets the speaker know that what they are experiencing is legitimate for them.
- Be mindful that growing up in our ultra-connected pressured world is difficult and that your child needs understanding and support in navigating this awkward period of growing up.
So, got any conversation starters that have worked for you and your tweens? Have you broken through the one-word answer wall? Tell me how!