Every afternoon, the time when all kids return from school the door-bell rings and I open the door with a welcoming smile. My exhausted son smiles back. I have always had a tough time to make this young man of few words open-up and speak. So, every single time I close the door with my smile intact, my mind runs through a thousand questions, to select the most effective one to start at least a 15 minutes long conversation. This is as tough as choosing that ‘one’ flawless picture out of hundreds to post on social media.
Questions like how the day was or what was the best thing about a movie or a book etc. are only heard by the walls of my house and they never respond. This silent, non-responsive behaviour of my young boy prompted me to research how to talk to your child, but it was all in vain, as my son seemed to have read them before me and knew exactly how to avoid another conversation. I didn’t give up though, over a period of time I came up with my own mix of conversation starters and they have worked in my favour. I am not a behavioural specialist or a therapist, I am only sharing some pointers that have worked for me.
Walking to a nearby café: When the distance is short, I don’t drive; I walk. This helps me to concentrate and listen to the conversation. Sometimes for no reason, I close my kitchen and take my son to a nearby café for a brunch or an evening snack. During the walk, we come across many things on the road and those are great conversation starters. All this while I refrain from asking any direct questions. A relaxed environment will let the child open up. Listen, don’t judge and appreciate their feelings.
Do some physical activity together: Whenever we step out of the house as a family whether to scale a mountain, go for a run, enjoy a cycle ride at the park, play cricket, do anything that our son enjoys we do it together. At the end of the tiring activity, we always enjoyed a good conversation. There will be something common to talk about and share a good laugh. These activities can be part of your everyday routine and not just weekend or holiday activities.
Let them break the rules: It’s OK for your child to go to bed late, take a late shower, or eat only junk the whole day, of course only once in a blue moon. They derive great joy in breaking rules and I think this sends a signal to them that the parents are not always trying to control their lives, and the child sees a more relaxed adult in parents and opens-up.
Talk about your own day: Before I ask my son about his day I let him listen to how I spent my day, in a way that he would understand and also let him know how happy or worried I am at that moment. Sometimes I do get some solutions to my own little problems. Kids are amazing and they have some great, simple solutions to complex things in life.
Talk about your own failures or fears: It is important for your child to know that we are all humans and it is OK to fail or feel anxious about some things. Talking about our own failures and fears will give the confidence to the child to speak about his own fears and then you are in a better position to help.
Don’t disturb when the child is doing something: Even if it is their favourite cartoon that they are watching the tenth time. It might be a repeat telecast or boring for you but for the child it is important. Don’t we like an uninterrupted time when we are watching our favourite soap opera. A conversation cannot happen when children are busy with their favourite activity.
Make a note of the times when your child spoke to you about his feelings and also make a note of the environment and the situation that initiated the conversation. As parents we are always seeking some tips to improve parenting, hope this helps you or inspires you to find your own mix of conversation starters.