Does it seem like an effort to get your children to say anything to you besides, “Fine” and “What’s for dinner?” Lack of communication can make parents feel closed off from their own kids. But don’t despair! You can get kids to talk to you — really. Try these six suggestions from experts:
1: Don’t compare yourself to TV families.
If you watch shows like Modern Family or The Middle and wonder why your kids aren’t as chatty as the kids on those shows, you’re not alone. “Parents see kids talking to their parents on TV and they start worrying that they’re not doing enough of it,” says Carl Grody, LISW, MSW, a social worker who specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy in Columbus, Ohio. “Those [TV] parents have scriptwriters and 22 minutes of airtime to solve problems. In real life, it takes longer to make changes, but the changes are real, not made up.”
2: Pause and take a deep breath.
Telling your kids you’re upset about their one-word answers will only make the problem worse. “If you seem jittery, you may be projecting this to your kids and that stress is more likely to push them away than it is to draw them in,” Grody adds. Calm down and put things in perspective. You’re probably doing better than you think in the communication department.
3: Quiet your inner interviewer.
Instead of peppering your child with questions every day, ask him just one. “This may seem insufficient, but as you have more success getting him to answer you once, your child will feel more comfortable chatting and may even start volunteering more information,” Grody says.
4: Put down your phone!
If you want your kids to talk to you, set aside your cell, tablet or any other electronic distraction, says Loni Coombs, author of You’re Perfect…and Other Lies Parents Tell. Make your body language open and assuring: Turn your whole body toward your child and make eye contact. “This is important, because when there is something really important that they need to talk about, they will feel like they can come to you because they know you will listen.”
5: Make meals fun.
Since mealtimes are often when most families gather, make that time an enjoyable one. Draw out your kids by hiding questions under each plate. Or have each family member write out a question, suggests Coombs. “Everyone feels more talkative when there’s food involved,” Coombs says. “Sharing in the preparation of the meal is also a good time to talk.”
6: Consider instituting family meetings.
To create an environment where conversation is encouraged, schedule times several days a week to get together and share your thoughts as a family. “This becomes part of the family ritual and encourages conversation and sharing,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.
And to keep things going, avoid asking open-ended questions. “Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’, which often leads to one-word answers, ask, ‘What was the best thing and worst thing that happened in school today?’” Horowitz suggests. “And always respond with non-judgmental comments.”
About Authors: Lambeth Hochwald is an editor and writer from New York. Her work has appeared in such publications and websites as Woman’s Day, Ladies’ Home Journal, Organic Spa and Entrepreneur.com. She is also an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.