If you’re a parent, you probably know that getting information out of your kids can require serious CIA tactics – and even then, our kids can be more stoic than worldly spies.
We really want – and need – to know what goes on when we’re not around, though, and so how can we get our kids to chat it up when they’d rather run for the hills?
According to Dr. Shane Owens, a board-certified behavioral and cognitive psychologist, one of the first and most effective things you can do is to recognize that you’re not battling with your kid – you’re on the same team, and if there’s an opponent, it’s silence.
“Your kid loves you and wants to talk to you, but there is some natural resistance.
The resistance is your foe, not your kid.
You’re talking to your child, not a suspect in a crime.
Patience and understanding are key.”
If you make it a habit to ask them about their day from the time they’re young, you can hopefully turn it into a habit that will persist. That way, if your normally chatty and outgoing child suddenly clams up, you might suspect that something is wrong.
Being a firing squad (of questions) isn’t the way to draw out conversation, but giving them the space and time to bring up what’s bothering them on their own definitely is. If you and your child have good quality time every day, time free of distractions with plenty of quiet space to encourage communication, they’re more likely to finally open up on their own.
If your child continues with the silence, though, it’s ok to ask questions – and therapists like Dr. Owens suggest trying a lighthearted, joking question rather than something serious.
“You can knock a kid’s resistance off balance by asking a question in a deliberately silly or wrong way.
My wife and I will often ask our daughter things like ‘Did you eat three bagels for lunch today?’ to get our daughter – who is a picky eater and reticent with details – to talk to us about what she actually ate.
She likes to call us out on being wrong or ridiculous.”
If your child is too old for that approach, or just doesn’t plain respond to it well, you’ll have to use your knowledge about your child to make an educated guess on what the issue could be, and perhaps phrase the question as a request for help instead.
“Something that often works with older kids is asking them to help you solve a problem similar to those they might be having.
For instance, if you think your daughter is having trouble with one of her friends, you might say something to her like ‘I’m having this problem with a friend of mine who isn’t answering my texts.
What do you think she’s trying to tell me?
Do you think she might be mad at me?”
That way, you could learn what your child might be dealing with, and also give them techniques for dealing with problems without having to go into details your kid might not be willing to give.
You always want to make sure you’re listening when your child is talking, because we all know you might not get a second chance.
There you go! Be patient, above all, and remember that you’re not raising well-behaved kids – you’re raising emotionally intelligent adults.
Now, go forth and conquer!