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Getting Kids to Open Up and Talk

Got a school-aged kid who's as tight-lipped as they come? Browse our no-bull tips for speaking their language – and mastering the art of small talk with your child

Any kid worth his or her Rocket Dogs knows the only real answer to the "How was your day, honey?" question is, "Fine, Mom." And when we prod for more information, we get the eye roll. So how do we get our kids to talk to us in more than monosyllables? Sometimes it's by asking them what they think about … stuff.

According to Dr. Richard Lerner in his book The Good Teen, keeping the lines of communication open between parents and kids is a great way to nurture healthy relationships with children. That means parents have to be ready to discuss almost anything. And it means being willing to listen to what kids have to say about what's important to them. For example:

Ask …

  • "What's the best thing that happened in soccer today? Why do you say that?"
  • "What do you think of the new (principal, coach, science teacher, home school group) so far?"
  • "So … you hate the 'What I Did for Vacation' writing assignment. If you were in charge, what topic would you give instead?"
  • "Why do you think Jenny should have won the student council election?"
  • "Would you be in favor of … (a later start time for students, changing school mascots, a ban on soft drinks in schools)?
  • Or, if you have the stomach for it, what does your daughter really think about your new outfit?

We have to be curious about what's engaging our kids, and then ask open-ended questions about what interests them. Even better, we need to pay attention to their answers. We may decide not to follow every piece of advice our little fashionista doles out, but we'll learn a lot about what's going on inside her head if we listen to her ideas.

Fun framing

Magazines that target young audiences recognize that kids of all ages love to share their views and opinions. And they've learned to format their quizzes and questionnaires in ways that help the reader "frame" her answers. You can do the same.

  • On a scale of … "On a scale of one to 10, how would you rank the speech you gave today?" or "On a scale of one to five, what did you think of the substitute P.E. teacher?" And then, "What makes you say that?"
  • Which would be worse … "Which would be worse … losing the student council election or losing your math homework for a week? Why that choice?"
  • Would you rather this, or that … "Would you rather have Mrs. James or Mr. Duncan kiss the pig at the assembly tomorrow? Why?"
  • If you were king (or queen) … "How would you have handled that discipline problem differently?"

Relax

Let's face it. These topics probably aren't on our adult "Top 10 List of Things to Ponder." We're not going to solve world famine or unearth the Cosmic Meaning of Life. And that's OK. Instead, though, we may establish a comfortable, natural pattern of, "You talk; I'll listen," making the big stuff – like peer pressure, bullying and later dating – easier to talk about when the time comes.

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