Going beyond "fine" how to get your kids to really talk

So your kid walks in the door after school and the first thing out of your mouth is "how was your day." It's instinctual.  My guess is the response you get is "fine." No long deep discussion and no clue as to what happened during those six plus hours that they were away from you.
My oldest son is a senior this year. Everyday this is our conversation when he walks in the door.
Mom: How was school today?
Aidan: Fine.
Mom: What did you do?
Aidan: Oh, you know things.
Mom: What kind of things?
Aidan: Stuff.
It's sort of our little running joke now. Things and stuff are his one word responses to anything that I ask about school. I guess it could be worse.
There are times when we all fall into the "I'm fine" trap for an answer, but there are days when we know our kids have a little bit more going on in their head than they are letting on to. I've found some surefire ways to get kids to talk after school so that we can open up the lines of communication with them and get just a little glimpse into their day.

Pick up a ball

This is my secret parenting trick to getting kids to talk. This works really well with my boys. After school, head outside and grab a ball and spend some time kicking, throwing, pitching, whatever. Aidan is 17 and this is still something that we do.  My daughter will open up if we are sitting at the table crafting together. There is something about being distracted with a task at hand that makes kids open up.  

Ask the right questions

If you are asking questions that require one word answers, then do you really think you will get more than one word out of your kid? Kids are great at doing the bare minimum of what is expected of them. Instead of asking how was school, ask who did you sit next to at lunch? Or what game did you play during recess? These questions can lead to other questions that can really open the dialogue.

Know your kid

This seems obvious, but as your kids get older and more independent your child can start to become more mysterious. You used to hand pick their friends and schedule their play dates and now they are hanging out with friends you've never met and liking music you've never heard of.  If you have a cell phone contract in place, then you will already be checking your kids texts and following them on social media. Ask them about the friend that commented on their Instagram or inquire about the kid who just sent them 25 texts to ask what they are wearing tomorrow. 
Also, know who else your kids are around all day. Go to the back to school night. Get to know your kids teachers and volunteer at the student store during lunch. Your kids aren't just spending their day with other kids, they are also surrounded by other adults.  Know your kids schedule and what teachers they like and which classes are their favorite.  Also, know which teachers they don't really like and what classes are boring to them.  Ask them about the chapter they are studying or the books they are reading for class.  Find out what topic they are researching for their paper. There is a lot that happens while your kid is gone at school.  Dig in a little deeper to find out what it is.

Set the stage for discussion

When your kids walk in the door, go to them. Look them in the eye. Give them a hug. Drop what you are doing to be available to them for discussion.  If you yell at them from the computer while you are working {guilty!} you probably aren't going to get into a long conversation.  Have a special snack waiting for them and then sit down at the table next to them while you have it.  Hop in the car and get fro yo after school or go to the park. Focusing your attention on your child lets them know that you are available to talk and are ready to listen.

Know when to stop

The goal is to get your kids to open up, not to push them to the point of exasperation! No one wants to feel like they are being interrogated.  Some days you will get more out of your kid than other days. The key is to know when to stop asking the questions and to let them unwind. It's a delicate balance, especially if you are dealing with teenagers! 
For those of you who aren't quite there yet, and can't get their kids to stop talking, this has been a great reminder for me.

Those are my tricks. Do you have any good ones that have worked for you? I would love to hear about them! Because as we all know, what works for one kid doesn't always work for another.

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