They come from school, they sit down, and when asked about the day, they mysteriously forget everything. When you talk to your children, you usually hear the one-word answers of “good,” or “fine,” but none of them answer your question really. In addition, all of those one-word answers quickly kill the conversation you are hoping to have with your child. So how do you make small talk and build a lasting relationship with your child?
Do Not Overload
The first thing to realize when you ask your children questions are that a lot has gone on in their life during that one day. You need to make your questions pointed and ask for specific facts. Instead of asking your child if he or she had a good day at school, ask whom they sat with at lunch. When you ask your child about the best or worst events, or even what was cool, then you will spark your child’s interest in talking about their day.
When you get home from work, the last thing you want is to be bombarded with questions and demands from your family. The same is true with your children. It is impossible to get them to sit down and talk with you, if they are wanting time to decompress. This may not be the case with the younger children, but as children begin hitting fifth or sixth grade, their days become much harder. You can help your child unwind by providing a snack when they get home and take the time while they are eating to read their body language. This will give you cues on when to speak up and possibly what type of day they might have had.
Children always want to please. One thing that can cause a child not to want to talk to his or her parents is the anxiety of being judged about what they say. Let a conversation come naturally and not push your child to talk. Watch your responses that they are not judgmental. Your child can know how you feel on a subject, but let them know that you have also made mistakes.
Children do not naturally have a long-term memory. This is something they learn and build. To help your child build a long-term memory, talk with the teacher, child care provider, friend’s parents, and anyone else that the child has seen during the day. Find some “talking points” that you can then bring to your child as questions. When asked what they had for lunch, they might branch off to who they sat with, any gossip that is going on, or any feelings they may have had during lunch. When you know some of the answers, you can help give kids cues to remind them.
Even though the parent in you wants to step in and help out, your children need to be able to solve their own problems. When they do, then they will want to talk to you about how they did it. They are likely to be very excited and proud about their accomplishment. This is the ideal time to talk to them about their thought process solved the problem and then how proud you are of them for solving it. By helping your children solve their own problems, they are going to be more likely to come back to you the next time they have a dilemma.
Although it sounds like the opposite of what you want, sometimes the way to get closer to your children is by backing off. Children of all ages like to have a little privacy and it needs to be respected to a point. Allowing your child the ability to say, “I am not in the mood to talk,” is much different than asking a question and letting them ignore your existence. A simple response of, “I am sorry you have had a tough day, would you like some hot cocoa. It always makes me feel better,” sometimes is all it takes to get a child to open about why they are not in the mood to converse. Make sure you do not ask your children questions about why they are not in the mood; this is the time when you make statements about how you think they are feeling and let them know you are available.
Even though they do not want to admit it, children want to know they can talk to their parents as much as parents want them to talk. Unfortunately, learning to make small talk is a learned discipline and does not come naturally. When you use a few tools to assist in the learning process, your children will be able to open up and come to you to talk.
Remember that children learn a lot by sitting in the background and observing. It is important to teach the children to learn how to talk about how they feel and what they want. It is also up to the parent to read the cues, relax, and talk to their child as if he or she was their friend. When you show a constant interest in your child’s needs and daily activities, the odds are better that he or she will show an interest in yours. This is when you can teach them about respecting personal time and space. By respecting your children, they in turn will respect you.
It may seem farfetched that engaging in small talk with your children does anything more than force you to spend time around a dinner table, but children benefit greatly by talking with their parents. You want to build a lasting relationship that involves conversation when they are young, so that when they get older and they face bigger issues, they will want to talk to you about it.