Summer is coming to an end, and we all know what that means: another school year is upon us. It is a whole new year of juggling homework, tests, extracurricular activities, and the development of our families. But as our family units learn and grow, it becomes easy to drift apart amidst all the scheduled appointments and school year obligations.
That’s why it’s important to connect with our loved ones when we can. Whether it is over a meal or amidst commuter traffic, conversation is the easiest way to strengthen the ties that bind our relationships. In fact, according to the American College of Pediatrics, it’s proven that children that regularly converse over meals with their families generally have better grades, language abilities, nutrition, and decreased drug-related behavior in adolescence. Thus, encouraging communication is certainly a key to having a strong family system and healthy future. But communication is not always easy, especially after each family member has had a long day of their own.
So, how do we get our kids to talk?
It might seem hard to get them sharing if all they have left is a little time, a few extracurricular activities, and a lot of homework. But communication is actually a lot easier than we think; it truly comes down to developing healthy habits.
Here are 5 tips to cultivate a safe zone for discussion so we know what’s going on in our kids’ lives before crises occur:
1. Let them know you are willing to listen even when they don’t want to talk
Let’s face it, we can’t force anyone to open up. I am willing to bet that even when you are pushed to talk, you will get a little clammy. And that’s okay. As long as we let our kids know that we are listening (even to their silent needs, like not wanting to chat), they’ll feel comfortable when they’ve got something to spill.
2. Pay attention
When they talk, whether it is elicited or not, try to make time to listen. Children need to feel heard in order to feel secure because attention implies that their voice is worth listening to. So, when you can, put down your phone, stop other tasks you’re doing, and show them they are important enough to hold our attention.
3. If you start the conversation, begin with something positive
Sure, we know they had a math test, but we also know they were stressing about it for a week prior. If that’s the first thing we bring up when we see them, the first feelings we are going to trigger may be anxiety. If we begin with something that makes them happy or they have a genuine interest in, we will set a relatively optimistic tone for the rest of the conversation. “Oh! Today was art. What did you make in class?”
4. Lead with an open-ended question
“Today was P.E.! What was your favorite activity you did?” When we lead with a question that allows room for a one-word answer like, “Did you have a good day?” or “Do you have a lot of homework?” they are given the option of simply answering, “Yes,” “No,” or any other one-syllable word in between. The more they talk, the more questions you will naturally have, and the conversation will flow. Communication is a habit, and the more we get used to opening up, the more organic it will become.
5. Engage the entire family in the same conversation
(When it’s possible, of course). I know, I know, this might only happen in a perfect world. But those one or two times we can make it happen, they are worth it! They will either allow us to find common ground or to celebrate our differences, and create a stronger foundation between all of our family members. Which is what it’s all about.
We understand that after a long day of parenting and other work you may not feel too chatty. But taking the time to communicate with our children is so much more than that. Plain and simple, it is bonding. And we all know a securely-bonded child becomes a much more secure adult. So, why not have a little chat now to strengthen your children’s lives later?
Amy B. Chesler is an author & award-winning blogger from Southern California. She has contributed work to many popular publications – from five different non-fiction stories to six different best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as content for the DVD Netflix blog, Life of Mom, Home & Family TV, BluntMoms, Elephant Journal, TODAY Parents, & more. Her first solo book was released in 2017 and can still be purchased on Amazon.
While not blogging and parenting, Amy is cooking, eating, traveling, reading, and healing. Feel free to follow her on social media (@amybchesler) or visit her blog.