Talking Points

By Lesley Sauls

June 6, 2008 5 min read

TALKING POINTS

Start early and communication won't get a bad rap

By Lesley Sauls

Copley News Service

Any parent who has asked a child how the day went is likely to have received a glazed stare, shrugged shoulders or the dreaded one-word answer: "Fine."

Getting into the mind of a child can be akin to breaking into Fort Knox. There has to be a secret code, but what is it? It may seem impossible, but there are some sure-fire ways to engage your child and become privy to the goings-on about which every parent wants to be aware.

Plant the seed of communication before your child even knows what you are up to. Make a routine of snuggling your daughter into bed with the lights out and whispering in her ear, "What was the best part of your day?" Be sure to include asking about the worst part, too. That might be the one part of the day she wouldn't have told you about otherwise, perhaps the root of anxiety or unhappiness that you can then handle before it becomes a larger issue.

Offer your highs and lows, too, edited for young ears, so that she can see that everyone has ups and downs in life and that you value her enough to share yours. You will soon earn her trust in return and be included in her private thoughts.

Joan Bohmann is the director of professional standards and continuing professional development for the National Association of School Psychologists and a supporter of laying groundwork as soon as possible for family communication. "If, during early school years, children know that the parent is going to ask what they learned today, it becomes a standard topic in which all are expected to take part. Then the pattern is set for older years."

Brittany Granger, a Seattle teen, is experienced in the communication battle between generations. She suggests treating kids with sincerity. If children feel belittled, they will withdraw, and if they feel threatened, they will hide truths and avoid any communication at all.

Says Granger, "Parents need to gain the trust of their child if they expect to be told anything. They need to listen and respect the feelings and thoughts of the child. Parents need to look at the situation, whatever it is, from the child's point of view, be calm and respectful and not yell or swear."

Bohmann agrees and adds, "Parents need to be careful to listen and validate the students' point of view rather than jump in with the 'right answer' or 'right way' to think about something."

Meet your son's friends and teachers. Volunteer in the school if you have time and participate with class activities as often as possible. Schools are constantly sending home announcements. Scour them for potential conversation starters about upcoming projects, school programs, retiring teachers, peer successes and any other topic you can find. Ask your child's friends carefully placed questions, and the answers you receive will become conversation starters to use at home.

A question that can be answered with a one-word answer most likely will be, so ask open-ended questions that can't possibly be satisfied with a "yes," "no" or "fine" answer. Instead of asking how your daughter's day was, ask about specifics. Ask what kind of math problems she is working on, what she read during her free time and what exercises she did in gym class. You'll get short answers, but each will open a door to more questions. Relate similar stories from your youth and you'll likely elicit questions that can easily be bounced back to her.

Consider your child's age when you gear up for an after-school chat. Younger kids will be open and eager to tell you about their day right away. Parental attention at that age is key, and they're ripe for conversation. Tweens and teens usually need a little time to themselves before they're willing to talk. It's better to let them come home and shift gears from school to family before you start asking questions.

Of older kids, Bohmann suggests, "Ask questions about the day while working on another task. If the student helps set or clear the table, that may be a good time to talk. Boys might do better while engaged in an activity such as shooting baskets or being active."

In any case, you must be a super-sleuth to gather the tidbits that will point the way into your child's mind. Tiny clues about their life litter yours and it's your job to collect them. The treasure you gain will be a lifelong bond with one of the people you hold most dear.

? Copley News Service

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