My daughter will be two years old next week, and each night we make sure that the 3 of us sit down, have dinner together, and talk about our day. It’s too early for in-depth conversations, but it is important to both my husband and I that we make space for talking, catching up and ultimately having open communication with our daughter.
Setting the stage early with our kids is important for healthy communication, but even if your child is older, it’s never too late to start. I tend to recommend dinner conversations with your kids to the families that I work with. It’s the perfect time to share stories, ask questions and catch up on each other’s day. Some ideas to get the conversation flowing: Everyone at the table can talk about the best part of their day, the worst part, or the funniest. These are just a few ideas and you can tailor it specifically to your family and kids depending on their age, the type of work you do, and your child’s personality. Everyone will have the time to give their example and you’ll be surprised how interesting, funny and emotional these conversations can be. This will give you a chance to get closer to your kids and partner, and even help you to find out things you may not have otherwise known. Remember, it may feel mechanical at first, but don’t give up, it will get easier and more enjoyable the more you do it.
Another good place to talk to our kids is in the car. Whether it’s a short drive to school or a road trip, you can take advantage of this time to open up, ask questions and share with your kids. For some people the car is the best place to talk with their teens because they aren’t face to face with them and they may be more comfortable to share their feelings when they aren’t being stared down (Another bonus to car ride chats? They can’t run away either). No matter what their age, car conversations can easily be turned into fun games while driving.
When it comes to how we tend to communicate on a whole, in this age of technology most of us are glued to our cell phone, laptops, IPads and tablets (our kids included). We easily can spend hours of our day tweeting, texting, Facebooking and Instagraming with friends and family, but at the same time we lose precious time with the people who are physically right next to us. I am not suggesting we need to be completely cut off from the rest of the world, but a step in the right direction would be to set time aside to disconnect electronically and reconnect with our kids. Maybe it’s one night a week or a few hours on the weekend, where our electronics are silenced so we can really talk with our kids and they can be heard. Again, you can make it fun and enjoyable by turning it into a games night, arts and crafts night, taking long walks together, or whatever you enjoy doing together as a family.
Kids that feel comfortable talking to their parents about what is going on in their life are more likely to open up to them when they are being bullied, when they are scared, in distress, dealing with low self-esteem, peer pressure and making decisions around drugs and sex. The expectation isn’t that you know every single thing about your kids, we all need some privacy, but good parent-child communication really makes for happy and healthy families.