Communicating with our children is an age old conflict of parenting. Parents want to know the details of their children’s lives to keep them safe and guide them through the world. However, as children grow and develop, they require privacy and independence. Further complicating things is the disconnect between generations. The new generation almost always thinks “They just don’t understand!” or “The world is so different from when my parents were kids.”
And, this generation isn’t wrong. I always hate to give away my age but I can tell you that I am a part of the last generation to grow up without the internet. I got my first email account in college and have been learning to navigate the digital world since. The children I work with on a daily basis, though, have never lived in a world without the internet, cell phones, Google, etc. I like to say that we are trying to teach them how to play on the playground, but their playground is nothing like the one we experienced. So, we do our best and hope and wish and search for ways to connect to our kids.
Even before I had my own children, I worked in education and interacted with children on a daily basis. I found that the younger kiddos (PreK and K) were easy to engage with and gave their love and trust freely. As kids got older, they became more reluctant to trust and connect. And then as they entered the “tween-ager” years it was extremely challenging to learn about not only their thoughts and feelings, but even simple facts about their day. I find myself constantly referring to and recommending the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk. Written by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish and originally published in 1980, this book remains relevant and helpful. It provides specific examples and exercises that you can practice (try with a friend first) to improve your communication skills with children.
Sometimes we don’t have time to read an entire book so I am also a fan of the following lists that can be printed out, posted, or saved to a phone, and quickly referenced. A quick Google search will yield an extensive list of “ways to ask your kids ‘how was school today’ without actually using those words. Some of my favorites include:
- Tell me something that made you laugh today.
- How did you help somebody today?
- Who did you sit with at lunch today?
- If you were the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
It is also fun to have a regular ritual, maybe at dinner or the car ride home, where everyone shares an “up” and a “down” – something they liked about the day and something less pleasant. Starting this early helps keep the momentum going into the teen years. Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t want to tell you everything. Remember, we are not their best friends. We are their parents. Encourage open conversation and be clear that you are there for them for better or worse. Show that you are willing to listen.
And don’t forget, when we truly listen, we must be silent. (Just move the letters around in listen and you can switch it to silent!)
Until next week, Be Wise!