My oldest is nine. He and I are tight. He and I get each other. And I have visions of him being 18, sitting at the table with me, sipping coffee, and chatting about life.
But I also have visions of him being 14, retreating to his room, and grunting as he passes by through the kitchen.
Figuring out kids is a constant Mission: Impossible. It’s as if parenting is designed to give you a bit of false confidence every so often that you are totally getting it only to have the spider web of laser beams turned on in a room that you thought you’d figured out how to navigate. And let’s just be real, I’m no Tom Cruise.
Talking to my kids has always been an easy thing. Up until the oldest turned eight, I felt as though I just smiled and made eye contact and asked them about their day and boom . . . the information flowed like hot lava. Easy peasy mac and cheesy. Parenting is a cinch.
And then. Then these children of ours, at some point, start to grow up. They begin to talk in monosyllabic communication methods. They start to avoid eye contact at all costs. They make their mothers feel like unnatural women who don’t know the basics of interrogation tactics. And thus the interrogation methods have to change.
I am finding that I can still get my kid to spill the beans even as he enters his tweens. But it definitely looks different than it did a year ago.
They say, “Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer.” Sometimes it can feel like it might take a third party player to pry information out of your kiddos. So what’s a parent to do? Here are five things I find will get my near-tween boy to communicate, almost without fail:
1. Dashboard confessionals
Currently, the post-school pickup is one of my favorite parts of the day. When the kids get in the car, they are buzzing with we’re-done-with-school-for-the-day vibes and they will spill. I can ask them how their days were and the info is fresh in their minds. And the very best part? For some reason, I swear that if they don’t have to look at me when they talk, they talk more. So when I am looking at the windshield and they are talking to the back of my head, they seem to say just about anything that comes to mind.
2. Snack session
I generally have anywhere from four to eight kids around my kitchen table after school. And why are they all sitting? Because food. Kids love snacks. They are basically walking vending machines covered in skin at this stage. So every day, I put out one “group snack”, I tell them they need to eat it in the kitchen, and I go about my biz. I act busy with dishes or cooking. I might go sit within ear shot in another room. They talk. I sometimes ask questions. I sometimes make mental notes of topics to table for a later time. I get to hear them dish about recess and lunch and the way so and so makes fun of that other person. It’s GOLD.
3. Getting on their turf
My kids all like to read. They also like to watch the Adventures of the Campers at Camp Tikiwaka. And they love to build with LEGOs. I’m not a good “play mom” but LEGOs, TV, and books? Those things I can do. When I feel like one of my dudes seems a little quieter than the norm or has a bee in his bonnet, I will ask if they want to do one of those three activities and then I will join them. At first we just build, or read, or watch . . . but it seems like it always ends in actually being able to talk with them about what’s what in their world.
4. Bedtime babble
Bedtime is a beast at our house. But it’s a beast because we let it be. Scratch that. We choose to make it a beast. But it works for us. We do reading with each kid. And then “lay” time. And while nearly every single night, I moan and groan as we are entering the beastly bedtime, it always results in some of the best time of the day when all is said and done. There is something magical about the fact that my oldest can’t see me in the dark. Like the car rides home, it’s as if when he can’t see me, he feels like he can really dump whatever is on his mind and in his heart. We’ve talked about death and life and heaven and soccer. We’ve laughed, cried, and he’s gotten angry. We’ve established, hopefully, that he can talk to us, about anything. Those bedtime chats have been some of the very best convos we’ve had and I hope that for at least another year or two, he’ll be cool with snuggling with mom or dad prior to the end of his day so we can get the good questions and supply the answers we want him to have.
5. The notebook
Sometimes the best conversations don’t involve one bit of actual talking. A friend offered a great suggestion a few years back that I dog-eared and put in my parenting arsenal. Give each child, when they are old enough to write, a back-and-forth-notebook. Tell them that at anytime, they can write to you in the notebook about anything—about their day, about their friends, about the football team they want to win, about why they like Cheez-its better than Wheat Thins . . . then, have them place it somewhere you agree upon and you read and write back to them. And you never have to actually talk out loud about what’s in the notebook. This has been such a great thing that I’ve done with the Oldest. Until this point, it’s been very surface-level. It’s been very non-structured. Sometimes it will be two months between seeing the notebook in my bedside drawer. Sometimes I ask him a question and he asks me questions back. Sometimes he talks about his brothers or things that annoy him. But I hope that if we can do this now, talk about the little stuff, then perhaps, he will know in a few years that when the big stuff fills his mind, he can write that, too. Even if he doesn’t want to say it out loud. And we will never judge him. But it will help us parent him.
You don’t have to be the carpool mom or the bedtime parent to make these things happen. But I do think that when we watch out for the times our kids seem to be an open book and seize those moments before they slam it shut, we are able to make communication connections that are golden.
How about you? When do you find to be prime pickin’ for talking with your kiddos—whether tweens, teens, or beyond? And how has it changed as they’ve grown and flown?