There comes a day when our kids stop talking our ear off. And not long after, we realize – wait, we want that back. This is just one of the too many to count conundrums built into parenthood. This one though is easily explained. When our kids are wee, much of what they utter is mindless, ceaseless banter; each word like a ping-pong ball to the forehead. Parents like to go deeper when it comes to conversation.
We want to know what’s up with our kids. Beyond that, we want our kids to want to keep us in the know. And just when our desire to hear from our kids starts to burn, their desire to talk to us goes up in smoke and we’re left to wonder what the heck is going on in their lives.
With our littles, there’s no guessing at what they’re about. If it’s happening, they’ll let us know. As many times as it takes until we make solid eye contact and respond heartily with congratulations or comfort, whichever they need. Our littles constantly need to feel heard and connected to us. Our bigs flip that concept on its rear.
Our tweens and teens are right on cue though, as if stage-directed when they cease to tell us about their days, nights, hopes, and dreams. They save this knowledge we yearn after for those they now crave connection with, acceptance and validation from; their friends. This normal part of development is important to the big picture process of priming their tiny, unfurling wings and taking flutter steps further and further towards the outer reaches of home until the day comes when they’ll engage their full wingspan and fly away.
Our big kids need to learn how to confide in others, how to develop bonds and build relationships and how to exist in the world without mom or dad always being up in their business about all the things. Our nearly growns need to taste this flavor of independence, however bitter or tangy we may think it. And to come back around from thinking us dummies who don’t know anything, who stepped right out of the ice age into the role we fill for them today. But mostly independence, and pulling away and initiating conversation elsewhere is one way they learn it.
But a silent house does not a happy one make. We need chatter, especially once we’re sans pitter-patter. We crave back and forth verbal interaction with our big kids. We want to know who their friends are, what those friends are all about and into. For as the cautionary tale goes, show us who your friends are and we’ll show you where you’ll be in five years. We crave knowing almost all the things the decade-plus ages entail because things are finally getting good, but also risky and dicey. The parenting stakes are higher now, so it’s especially challenging to be in the upside down and the unaware when it comes to our tweens and teens and the lives they lead.
Here are some tips to get your kids talking again, willingly and on their terms:
- Lay down on their bed or on the couch next to them. And shush it! They’ll begin. Usually with, “What?” To which you lie like a rug and say, “Nothing. Just chillin’.” Your kid will not not talk to you. Just wait for it.
- Take your kid for frozen yogurt or any kind of treat. Leave your phones in the car. Eat there. And shush it again. Let them talk first. They will.
- Pretend you’re busy with something. The key is in the pretending so you can easily drop what you’re doing and focus on your kid. They want to see you drop everything for them so they wait until it seems you’re engrossed elsewhere so they’ll know they’re more important to you than your task at hand. Your big kid still wants you to show them your love and devotion, they just won’t say, “Hold me!” with outstretched arms like they used to.
- Ask your kids their opinion. About literally anything. Our kids can become so used to us telling them what we think about everything and not being asked what they think in return because we want them to think like we think. Asking for their viewpoint will catch them off guard; they’ll sing like a canary.
- Ask them to show you the funniest meme or video they saw on their device today. They’ll happily oblige and won’t stop with just one. There’ll be lots to talk about in relation to what they’re watching, too. Them first though, not you.
- Above all, when you do get your kid to gab again, LISTEN. And listen reflectively. Nod your head in agreement or shake your head to mimic their incredulity. Be their mirror, do what they do. Respond to what they tell you by pinging them back with words similar to their own. Your goal here is to ensure they feel wholly listened to, not lured into yet another teachable moment.
Reflective listening works like this. When your kid says something similar to, “My teacher embarrassed me in class today when he woke me up by shaking my desk,” you respond by saying something akin to, “Oh my gosh, that must have been so embarrassing when your teacher woke you up by shaking your desk.”
You might want to say something closer to, “Why the heck are you falling asleep in class? Well, that means less screen time for you and an earlier bedtime, too. What’s more, you owe that teacher an apology for being so apathetic in class.” Which you can certainly choose to do and be within your rights as a loving parent. However, the goal at hand is to get your kid talking and keep them talking. Sooooooo, reflective listening is now your best friend and biggest partner in this effort. Snuggle up and get close. You’re going to need each other to breach the dam holding you back from good, telling conversations with your kid.
This is not to say cease all parenting, heavens no. Just maybe save those teachable moments, A.K.A. what your kids call lectures, for when they really count. Our own kids can smell a teachable moment a mile away, same way they can smell chocolate chip cookies or an apple pie baking. Only, teachable moments repel them as opposed to drawing them in and their words out. Be a cookie, moms and dads, or a pie. Your kids will respond in kind.