For a child to feel loved, they need to feel that their parents, and indeed any other adults they spend time with on a regular basis, take an active interest in their lives. Yet, adult lives are busy and stressful, and as a result, it’s all too easy to slip into a routine where the only question you ever ask your child about their lives is a perfunctory How was your day? as you drive away from the school gates after school, or fail to look up from your phone as they walk in the door. Children quickly learn that this is a reflexive question, rather than a meaningful one, and they interpret it as meaning that you’re not really interested in their answer. This means that rather than open up to you, they feel they can simply fob you off with the standard response of Fine!
Every parent will be familiar with this question and response scenario, and many lament the fact that their child, especially when they reach their teenage years, doesn’t want to talk to them about their day. However, the fault here lies not with your child but, and I know this may be difficult to hear, with you. This situation has arisen because over the years, you’ve trained your child to think that you’re not really listening when you ask this question, so there’s no point in them investing any time, effort, or emotion, in providing a meaningful or honest response.
So how can you change this dynamic? Well, instead of automatically asking the same question over and over again, try varying the questions you ask each day. Combine this with more open questions which require them to reflect on their day and give a longer response. Finally, make sure that they feel like you’re actually listening to them when they speak. This means, depending on what you’re doing, putting your phone down, turning off the TV or pulling over to the side of the road (or better yet, set aside time to talk to them about their day before you drive off), and focusing all your attention on your child for a few minutes.
When they talk, use active listening to signal to them that you are taking in what they’re saying, and try not to interrupt them while they are speaking. It’s also important that you keep your emotions calm and positive, even if they say something that upsets you or makes you angry. This time is about them, and not about you, and if you start giving off negative energy you’ll find they quickly clam up and won’t want to share with you again in the future. However, it’s also important that you reflect and empathise with their emotions and that you don’t summarily dismiss or ride rough-shod over any emotions that they choose to share.
I know I’m making this all sound so easy, but it’s not. To do this, you may have to not only over-ride years of routine that you have got into with your child, but also generations of parents asking the same question, and children giving the same one word response. It’s rarely spoken about, but the apparently effortless communication and sharing that you so much envy in other parent-child relationships actually takes a lot of effort and practice, both on the part of the parent and on the part of your child, and as they grown up, it’s your responsibility to take the lead. So to get you started, here’s my selection of six open questions you can ask your child at the end of their day to encourage them to talk and share with you:
- Can you tell me one thing that you learned today?
- What was the most fun thing that you did today?
- What made you laugh?
- What did you most enjoy?
- Was there anything that made you sad or unhappy?
- Was there anything that happened today that made you stop and think?
Questions like these not only let your child know that you are taking an interest in their life, but they also tell you that you value learning, that you care about their happiness and that you’re willing to listen to them talking about their emotions. However, remember, you’re asking them a question, and you have to accept their answer no matter what. So, for example, if you ask them to tell you about something they learned, don’t be surprised, or worse, castigate them, if the response includes things like, You shouldn’t laugh while drinking milk, I’m not very good at football or It’s embarrassing when you accidentally call the teacher Mum. It might not seem like it to you, but from your child’s point of view, these are all perfectly valid answers to the question you asked. Depending on the response you get, you may find it difficult to do at times, but always try to remember that the important thing here is that you focus on what they are saying and use it as the starting point for a wider discussion about their day and, indeed, their lives.
If you’re not in the habit of asking these types of questions, then don’t be too surprised if the first time you ask them, you get a blank response from your child. You’ve changed your routine, and it will take a while for them to realise that you are genuinely interested in their answers, especially with older children, and only then will they be willing to open up and give you honest responses to your questions. They may even fight it at first, but your persistence will pay off in the long-term so keep going regardless,
If your child is young enough that you haven’t already slipped into the age-old routine outlined at the start of this article, then now is the time to get into the habit of asking more open questions about their day. Build it into your routine now, and it will pay great dividends in the future, both because your child will feel more open about sharing their lives with you, but also because it will help you build a better bond with them, too.
However, it’s also important to make sure that you don’t overload your child with questions the moment you see them. Instead, you need to be aware of their emotional state, and whether they are in the right frame of mind to talk to you about their day. There may be times then they’re too wound up, tired, upset, stressed or distracted to engage with your questions, and when your child is in any of these states, it’s important that you give them enough space to let them work through their emotions before initiating a conversation with them about their day. Again, I may make this sound easy, but I realise it’s not. It can be incredibly difficult to take a step back to give an upset child enough time to process how they are feeling before asking them about what’s going on. Yet, this doesn’t mean that it’s not the right thing to do. You just have to remember that if you’re open and receptive, your child will talk to you when their ready to do so. All you have to do is make sure that they know you are there for them and that you are interested enough in their lives that you’ll listen to them when they decide they’re ready to share. And to do that, it’s important that you build a routine with your child that involves you regularly asking them about their day, and listening to what they have to say about it.
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.
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