Communication is a Two Way Street for Parents

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

It is the end of a long day and a father is just tucking in his son for the night when the son decides it is the perfect time to talk about his day. Recognizing this as a stall tactic, the father cuts off his son and says, “I am sure you had an interesting day but everyone is tired and it is time to go to bed.”

As the child gets older, the father notices his son talks to him less and less about his day or even if anything is bothering him. He would like to have more open communications with his son, but does not know how to get it started.

Open communication between parents and their children is a key for children to successfully navigate many of life’s challenges. However, open communication requires some cultivation before it starts bearing fruit.

When the father is tucking in his son for bedtime, he had a good opportunity to start a real conversation with his son. There are certain times of the day when children are more likely to want to talk about what is on their mind such as when they are driving in the car or before dinner. Parents need to be open to these opportunities and take the time to listen to what is going on in their children’s lives.

The initial knowledge gleaned from these conversations can help parents learn more about their children’s interests such as their favorite music or apps they like to play. When children talk about what they like, parents should show interest and ask questions. Children are more likely to open up if they feel their parents are interested in what they have to say.

Sometimes children are open to talking with their parents but don’t know how to start. Parents often make the mistake of interrogating their children by just asking direct questions. Children quickly stop responding to these types of conversation starters. A better option is for parents to simply share what they have been thinking about. This is a more open ended way of inviting a conversation and children will feel more inclined to respond. Once a conversation gets started, many of the questions parents have will be answered.

Opportunities to have children start a conversation with their parents can be fleeting, it is important to take the time to stop and really listen to what children have to say. This may mean putting down the smart phone or pausing the TV show. Once parents have given their undivided attention to their child, they should just listen without interruption. Too often parents can get into a hurry by cutting off their child’s conversation. Parents need to let children finish their point even if it takes a long time to get there. The resulting information can be well worth the time spent listening.

There are a lot of challenges for parents to establish open communications with their children. However by making the time and showing interest in what their children have to say, there will be a payoff for their effort as parents will get a better insight into their children and be able to help them through life’s challenges.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on April 27, 2014.

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