We’ve all been there. You see your child for the first time all day, after a long day at school and work and you have been thinking about her all day. You want to check in, find out how her day was. So you launch into a barrage of questions: “How was your quiz? Do you have any homework? Who did you sit with at lunch today? What tests do you have coming up next week? Did you talk to your teacher? What did you play at recess?” Her response? Either she gives short one word answers or shuts down completely, which leaves you frustrated and anxious, worried that she’s not telling you something important. Grrrrr.
Or maybe your child comes home from school and says, “I didn’t have anyone to play with at recess.” Your heart starts beating rapidly and your blood starts to boil. You are indignant, thinking, “Who wouldn’t want to play with her? She’s amazing!” You come back at her with, “What did you want to play? Was someone mean to you? Did you ask someone to play? What happened? Where were your friends?” And on and on. She tries to begin to explain, and you reply with “Well, why didn’t you ask someone to play? why don’t you find a new friend? Are you sticking up for yourself? Did you talk to your teacher about it?” The longer the discussion goes on, the more frustrated you each get trying to find a solution. With every idea or plan you give, she responds with reasons why that can’t happen or won’t work. The conversation ends with her in tears and you on the verge of totally losing it.
So how do you do it? How do you get your child to share more with you and not end up in a battle every day?
You start by shutting up. Seriously? Seriously.
Shut up and listen. Let her (or you) get in the door. If you can swing it, sit down at the kitchen table or counter and look through a magazine or just sit quietly. Feel free to start with the traditional “How was your day?” You know you HAVE to ask! But then, be quiet. If she says, “fine”, leave it at that. You asked. She answered. Enough. Then I want to encourage you to stay AVAILABLE. That means no switching the wash, no running around the house, no doing anything except sitting there and allowing her to BE. More importantly, you are communicating that you are available and PRESENT, whether or not any discussion happens. I KNOW it’s hard. I KNOW it feels strange. I KNOW we are all busy running around. When you can communicate (by being quiet) that you are there, you are creating a stress free environment for your child to share(or not). And BOTH are okay.
Schedule in time to be around. In this day and age, everyone is so overloaded and busy, that we are constantly trying to get the next thing crossed off our lists. “I have to make dinner, I need to get the wash done, this one has to get to the doctor’s, I have to spend quality time with my kids, I need some one on one time with each doing a special activity that she will remember for the rest of her life!” It’s enough to send anyone into a tailspin. So when our kids are occupied in some way, we see that as a green light to get stuff done. Try and look at it as an opportunity to BE AVAILABLE. Maybe find your child and see what they’re up to. Ask her to show you what she’s playing or doing. If you get resistance, or you think that’s too much, grab a book or a magazine and go sit in the same room as she is. You don’t have to talk. You don’t have to ask a single question. But you just might start getting snippets of info about a class or comments about who’s dating who, simply because you’re there and looking available.
Think about the kind of person your kid is. NOT who you WANT her to be. WHO SHE IS. Does she need to talk a lot? Is she more quiet? Maybe she’s super chatty with her friends but doesn’t talk much at home. Think about her personality. Is she an introvert or an extrovert? Does she recharge by being around people and social situations? Or does she recharge by having alone time? What might she need from you when she walks in the door? Let’s face it, after a long day at work, do YOU want to walk in the door greeted by a million questions you have to answer? I think not. I know as parents, our NEED to know how our child is doing and what went on for them during their day can be powerful. I am challenging you, however, to think about what you could do differently for her when she walks in. Does she need to eat something right away? Does she need to go right to her room? Does she need quiet? Does she need to spend 5-10 minutes playing around on her electronic device? Does she need to drop her bag and immediately run outside to play? Does she need to get started right t away on her homework? Simply think about and consider what would work best for her and let her do that if possible.
You can even have a conversation about what she needs at a different time. You can start by saying, “What do you think works best for you when you (or I) see each other for the first time at the end of the day. Help her identify the traits that make her who she is and help her find a way to incorporate a routine that honors that.
When she does share something, just LISTEN! YOUR CHILD DOES NOT NEED OR WANT YOU TO FIX EVERYTHING. Get it? You will receive more information and have much better communication with your child if you can just listen. Let’s go back to the example of the child who says “I had nobody to play with at recess.” Instead of launching into a million ways she can resolve the situation, simply say, “I’m so sorry. That’s awful.” Done and done. Commiserate with her. Let her experience the pain of it. It’s healthy and really ok. Chances are that may be all either of you say about it, and that’s fine. She may move onto another topic all together. Try saying “well, if you need help working on a plan about that, I’m here.”
As you begin to enjoy the world of teens, you might find that you get even less info. Again, the more quietly available you can be, the better. When she does open up and begins to talk about the friend of hers that lied to her parents and ended up drunk at a party for example, the best way to keep the lines of communication open is to keep your own judgements out of it.
Instead of: “Oh my God! Really? I can’t believe Abby would do something like that! I really don’t want you to hang out with her ever again. That is just awful! If I ever find out you did something like that, you’d be in serious trouble.” Try: “Really? Wow. What do you think about that?” or “Wow. What did you say to her when she told you that?” or “Oh no, is she okay? How’s she doing?” The second line of questions are less judgmental, threatening, and opens the door for calm, open conversation.
The less reactionary you are when your child shares something, the more likely she is to try it again. What if you went to your boss each day with a new idea you came up with, and she responded with a barrage of questions, challenging you and grilling you? What if with every new idea, she made a nasty or disapproving face and told you to come up with a better one, or listed all the reasons your idea won’t work, how likely would you be to continue coming to her with ideas? The more calm, casual, and composed you can be when your child shares ANYTHING, the more often your child walks away from that interaction feeling heard and validated. She will then be more likely to take bigger risks in sharing more with you.
Finally, know when to push and when to back off. There are some situations where gaining more information from your child is critical, such as if she is being bullied. So if you do ned to push and ask more, again remember CALM, CASUAL, COMPOSED. If you can conduct yourself in that way, you will get a better response. Also, it’s important to sense when the questions are too much for your child and it’s then that you need to take a break and maybe try again at another time or in a different setting.
The truth is, most kids want to have a relationship with their parents, but are often put off when parents get too intense or become too much. Kids are under a tremendous amount of pressure these days, both internally and externally, so working to create and farm a non-threatening, open environment for them to share will for sure yield the greatest crops.