If you want to know what's going on with your children, don't
ask yes or no questions or questions that can be answered in one
word, recommends Annie Scully, first-grade teacher and mom of two.
Instead of asking, "How was school today?," where the typical
response is "fine," ask "What are you learning about in English?"
or "What do you like about your teacher?"
Try these questions to get the conversation started:
• What is the best thing that happened to you today?
• What do you like most/least about school?
• Who is your best friend, and why?
• What is your favorite movie, and why?
• What would you like to do together this weekend?
• What is your favorite memory?
• What is your favorite thing to do?
You to your child: How was your day, honey?
You to your child: How was your day,
Your child: OK.
You: What did you do?
Child: (rolls eyes) Nothing.
Child: Not really.
You: Did you have a good day?
Child: (shrugs) Just because.
Sound familiar? Getting your child to
communicate-in a meaningful way-can be challenging. But there are
tricks of the trade you can use to improve communication and your
Try some of these great tried-and-true two-way
communication ideas from moms and dads who have been there.
But of course, be careful what you wish
Bone up on your listening
Probably the most important advice the expert
parents provided is something that's not always easy to do when
life is rushing by: listen. No, really listen.
"Really be interested in what they're saying,"
says Bill Scully, dad of Katie, 21, and Sam, 16. "Don't just feign
interest, really be interested. Make sure they know they can talk
to you about anything. Don't shy away from any subject."
Annie Scully adds: "It's important to let your
kids know you're always there if they have something to talk about.
I don't think you can tell them this too much."
Most important, don't be too judgmental, they
both say. It you are, the less likely the kids will come to you
with a problem or question.
Monica Johnson, mom of Alex, 23, and Anna, 21,
"I have always tried to remember the names of
the people my kids talk about, to remember specific things that
they mention, and then I follow up later by asking them something
specific about what they'd told me, like, 'How did it go with Megan
asking Jake to Turnabout?' Then, they knew their story mattered to
me, and they were happy to give me the latest update on the
Betsy Dudak, mom of Leah, 18, and Matthew, 15,
says it's OK to show you really care. "Without making the child
feel insecure or worried, it is OK to show tears or express anger,
disappointment, sadness," she says.
Become a sleuth
But sometimes parents need to get a little
creative to encourage communication.
"When my children were in elementary school, I
would ask, 'How was your day, and answer with the letter 'B,' or
'P,' making them giggle when they tried to think of a word. This
always led to additional conversation," says Lisa Howard, mom of
Jeremy, 22, and Travis, 18.
Kathy Boyce, mom of Kyle, 18, and Mitchell,
15, checks out the school website and school announcements-and her
kids' friends-for conversation starters. "Then I can ask specific
questions about their day and their classes," she says. "When it
comes to finding out about my boys' love interests, I ask my sons'
friends, who will quickly give up bits of information just to see
(my son's) reaction and embarrassment. It is usually enough to
start a conversation."
Johnson says written communication can be
helpful-"especially when the situation is sensitive, or when
tempers are heated and we can't listen without interrupting each
Writing notes back and forth makes both sides
take time to listen before answering. "It might start out a little
roughly, or with hesitation, but if given time, it clears the air
enough to get the door to open a crack and the conversation can
usually be finished face to face."
Have fun together
Is it possible to tee up good times to talk
with your child? The parent experts say yes, and these activities
don't have to be over-the-top.
"My kids say it's huge that we have dinner
together almost every night. It is our time to talk about our day,
which leads to deeper things ... or sillier," Dudak says.
"I found going to a 'neutral' setting made my
kids seem to open up more," Howard says. "So I would suggest going
out every once in a while after school, to a place of their choice,
for an appetizer. You would be surprised how a little 'away' time
works for both of you!"
Dudak says: "We spend a lot of times with our
kids doing things we all like: biking, sailing, movies, dinners,
listening to music, talking current events. You have to be willing
to do things with them."
Karen Ross is the mother of two boys.
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