Fortunately, I have a village of wise women across the country — six amazing, intelligent, beautiful women raising (or who have raised) kids — to ply for answers and they’ve stepped up to fill the silence.
7 (Real) Tips and Techniques on How to Squeeze the Good Stuff from Kids
1. Be there on their terms.
“Be prepared to listen even when you don’t feel like it. Most of the time, they don’t want to talk. When they do come home chattering, drop everything and listen. Even if you’re dealing with the most important things — drop them. That window opens wide every so often and it can slam shut quickly (long before you’ve finished your other important task).” ~Kari Linter, Laporte, CO
2. Open your ears and shut your mouth.
“You have to know to keep your own mouth shut for most of the ‘conversation.’ Kid needs to talk. You need to listen. I would sometimes tell my daughter (with my heart breaking over whatever was causing her suffering), ‘You know, this WILL pass. Sometimes you just have to hold on and wait, and things do get better.’ And I’d feel so wise and helpful. Then finally, one night, she said, ‘You know, Mama, you always say this. And I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but honestly? THAT DOESN’T HELP AT ALL. When things are really crappy, it doesn’t make you feel any better to know that sometime later they won’t be crappy. Why would thinking that would help me if I’m feeling bad NOW?’ I was shocked.” ~Michelle Herman, Columbus, OH
3. Drop judgment and model respect.
“I have high expectations and respect for my kids. I expect that from them in return. I don’t hover or try to control them. I give them freedom to explore their worlds and make mistakes. They learn from their mistakes. When they fall I do not judge, but strive to be open and accepting. I give them space to be the best they can be. The best way to keep lines of communication open is to let go when you can and at the same time let them know they can tell you anything.”
~Laura Myln, Portland, OR
4. Be where the action is and listen when they’re not talking to you.
“I’ve made it a priority to be a driver for sports events (transporting a carload of kids) and a chaperone for school trips and the hostess of many, many sleepovers and pre-dance parties. That way, I get to hear what the kids are talking about. Having some idea what the issue du jour is comes in handy. Then I casually (not making eye contact — they’re more comfortable talking in the car or while we watch TV) bring up something ‘funny’ I heard someone say and it usually becomes a great catalyst for conversation.”
~Kari O’Driscoll, Seattle, WA
5. Get silly with them.
“Let yourself be super goofy with your tween/teen. Often, after we’ve been doing silly stuff and laughing our heads off, my daughter will tell me about something that’s really been bothering her.”
~Kelly Moyer, Portland, OR
6. Make it a positive experience for them.
“Make a point of building positive association around it, and help them learn to recognize their own skill for communicating well by reflecting back the qualities you see. My daughter and I have always had ‘heart to heart’ talks while we snuggle in the dark before bed. There have been a few conversations that set a benchmark for connecting. After the first, when she was still really young, I said, ‘That was a really great conversation and I appreciate the way you talked about ________.’ Now, years later, if she’s not very forthcoming or actually resisting talking, at the right moment I can say, ‘When you’re ready I’d love to have another one of our conversations.’”
~Prema Nihan, Houston, TX
7. Know you don’t have to have all the answers (and neither do they).
“One of my favorite things that my son does, and I wish I did more, is to answer a question by saying something very true, which is ‘I don’t know.’ As in, ‘I don’t know why I’m so mad at you, but I do feel mad.’ I think we all need permission to say, ‘I don’t know.'”
~Monica Holloway, Los Angeles, CA
Photo Credit: iStock