Back To School Edition: Tip #6

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Catching up on this back-to-school series?  Start here!

Back to School Tip of the Day #7

Create a plan to help your child open up. Some kids are natural chatterboxes and delight in sharing every detail of every minute of the school day as soon as they get home. But many other kids, especially older ones, don’t volunteer much information. This leaves the moms of the non-talkers no choice but to consult the moms of the excessive-talkers to find out what is happening at school. (“I can’t believe that the school was on lockdown for four hours and she didn’t even tell me!”) So how can you get a child who doesn’t volunteer information to start opening up?

The truth is that it is idealistic to think that the best conversations are born naturally; teachers and trainers and bosses facilitate successful discussions. In other words, there is a framework in place before people actually start talking. The facilitator may not know how the conversation will develop, but he has thought about where it will take place and how it will get started.

In our family, we have found four types of conversations to be the most productive in terms of learning more about our kids. Maybe some of these will work for you this year, too.

The Dinner Table Conversation

We attempt to sit down at the dinner table every night. Sometimes that means two of us. Sometimes that means three of us. Several nights a week, all four of us get to sit down to eat and talk together. The nice thing about the dinner table conversation is that it can be part of a predictable routine for your child, and some kids are more open and comfortable the more predictable life is. If your family can’t eat together every night, maybe you can set aside certain nights that are nonnegotiable family nights, even if that means eating unusually early or late on those evenings.

Some nights, our dinner table conversations are vibrant, and some nights getting kids to answer questions is like pulling teeth. If your kids tend to give terse answers, try something new. First, make sure that you are asking open-ended questions that require longer answers. A question like, “How was school today?” will most likely elicit a response of “Good,” “Fine,” or “Awful,” and then the conversation has stalled. Try asking questions that require more of an investment from your kid, like “Tell me about something that you wish you could have changed today” or “Tell me about how you helped somebody after you left this morning.” We have also experienced success with asking each person to share a high and low point of the day and with using a conversation jar (a jar filled with interesting conversation starters). I know other families that challenge one another to identify things that they are grateful for each day or people and situations that need prayer. The key is to create a routine and stick to it so that your kids know that these conversations are important, and then experiment with creative ways to glean information so that your kids don’t feel like they are under interrogation.

The Let’s-Go-For-A-Walk Conversation

Last week, I took my boys out to lunch. This should have been a fun end-of-summer activity, but, frankly, we were all a little grumpy. The food was good. The conversation, not so much. The boys were irritating each other just by being alive, and my patience gauge was on E. I was irritated that I had spent money on a special lunch that nobody appreciated, and this just goes to show you that even though we value the dinner table conversations, they aren’t always everything that I hope for.

On our way home, we decided to stop at a metro park where we could walk the trails and get some exercise for an hour. We weren’t really in the mood to spend more time together, but we were feeling the crunch of summer vacation coming to an end, so we did it. We chose a trail that traced the path of the river and spent some time skipping rocks, exploring, and just soaking up the sun. Somewhere along the way, the boys started talking. They talked a lot. They talked about the upcoming school year and a movie we had seen and things that they want to do as a family. It occurred to me that just being on a walk under a blue sky dramatically changed the mood for all of us and opened a line of communication. Lightbulb moment. I think I need to take more walks with my boys.

To sum it up, spend some time outside together. Maybe that means taking one of the kids with you when you walk the dog each night. Maybe that means planning a trip to a park once a week, just to walk and chat away from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood. Maybe you could accomplish the same goal by going hiking or riding bikes or golfing together. I spent, or actually wasted, some money at the restaurant that day when the best part of our day was free!

The Bedtime Conversation

Every once in a while, one of my kids will open up and want to talk at bedtime. I will admit that this is the absolute worst time for me to have a deep conversation because I am exhausted when everyone crawls into bed. However, I know that if one of my kids starts a bedtime conversation after our prayers and goodnights, something is REALLY bothering him, and he may be so worried that he can’t fall asleep because of it. I usually listen for a few minutes, soothe his nerves, and then create a plan to discuss it further tomorrow. Thank goodness that works for my kids – because I am seriously useless after 9 p.m.

We don’t spend a lot of time talking at bedtime, but I know some moms who enforce early bedtimes so that they can snuggle up and talk to their children at night. If that is the time when your children are most likely to open up, then maybe bedtime conversations need to be part of your family’s routine.

The You’re-Stuck-in-the-Car-With-Me-So-We-Might-As-Well-Talk Conversation

This kind of conversation is becoming more and more useful to me as my kids get older, and I think there are two reasons.

First, as my kids get older, we seem to spend more time in the car. Almost every evening, I am chauffeuring somebody to something, and sometimes that is the only time in the entire day when the two of us are alone. This is a great time to have a heart-to-heart, especially if the day has been so busy that dinner conversation is not an option. If your kid will open up on the way to basketball practice, then it may be worth stepping out of the carpool in order to put that quiet time to good use.

The You’re-Stuck-in-the-Car-With-Me Conversation is also fantastic when you need to talk to your older child about something difficult. I don’t care how open and honest you are with your children, some conversations are just HARD. You know it’s true. My older son and I have had our best growing-up-is-rough conversations and things-you-should-know-before-you’re-a-teenager conversations in the car during the two-hour drive to Grandma’s house. I recommend planning individual road trips with your kids every once in a while and ditching the electronics on the way. If you are brave, let your child ask you anything. This will give you a true glimpse of what is on that kid’s mind and will reassure your child that the lines of communication run both ways.  Try not to seem surprised or offended by whatever comes up; your disapproval is the fastest way to send the conversation into a shutdown.

Aside from the fact that you are stuck, the other benefit of the car conversation is that you don’t even have to look at each other if either of you starts feeling uncomfortable!

If you have other ideas to help kids open up, please leave a comment! Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if your first attempt at starting a family conversation doesn’t go smoothly. It may take some time to figure out what works for your kids, but don’t minimize the impact it has when they know that you are trying!

Join us tomorrow for Tip #7!  Only three tips left!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/98682907@N00/3817165257″>Set</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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