Does having a conversation with your child end up in monosyllabic answers, grunts, or perhaps not even a nod of recognition?
Having great conversations with your child can make all the difference to your relationship.
Getting kids to open up to you can help to build trust, create deeper bonds and can improve conversational skills too.
Get it wrong, however, and you may undo all your hard work and progress.
It is no secret that it can be hard to get kids to open up and converse with you.
But, there are strategies to help you create a safe space for comfortable and constructive conversations with children and teens.
At Flourished Minds, great conversations are at the heart of everything we do.
The conversations we create enable the fantastic transformations that we are known for, to take place.
However, the reason our conversations are so good is not because of what we say but how we listen.
If you want to improve the conversations you have with your children, read on for our top six tips for getting kids to open up to you.
Six Top Tips For Creating Constructive Conversations With Children
1. Listen, Actively
Active listening is such a powerful but underutilised skill.
Active listening doesn’t just focus on what’s being said, but also on how it’s being said and what is left unspoken.
It is not just the words that make up the conversation.
At Flourished Minds, every sigh, pause, fidget and facial expression is part of the conversation.
It is picking up on all these aspects, however small, that make for great, active listening that facilitates excellent conversations.
Allowing each child to be true to themselves and listening wholly, without any distractions, helps us build rapport and connection that enables us to facilitate a great relationship, encouraging the child to feel comfortable sharing as much as they want to.
It is essential in our conversations that we listen without judgement, criticism, frustration or personal views or feelings.
Instead, we have no expectations or opinions, just a genuine interest in the experience that the child describes.
It can be hard not to interrupt or let your own experience get in the way.
However, to make a conversation productive is to create the space for your child to be honest and open with what they experience, even if that differs from your own experience or contradicts your opinion.
This can be difficult especially as a parent. However, If you manage this we can guarantee it will be worth it!
Of course, it is also important to remember the essentials of great listening.
- No distractions
- Giving your undivided attention
- Not interrupting
- Adjusting your body language, pace and behaviour to suit the response
- Being attentive and focused.
2. Ask Great Questions
The priority is active listening. However, you can further develop great conversations by asking insightful, powerful and open-ended questions once your child has finished talking.
Try not to start with questions as soon as the child stops talking.
Allowing silence is a powerful way to get kids to open up even more (see tip 4 below).
Use questions where the child can reflect rather than answer with yes or no. Questions that begin with ‘how’, ‘what’ or ‘who’ usually allows for a more reflective response.
‘Why’ questions can sometimes come across as critical, and may make your child answer defensively, or feel they are being judged.
With this in mind, try to reframe your question in a more gentle, open-minded way.
If you’re struggling to come up with questions try Kim Morgan’s Coaching Cards For Children. At Flourished Minds, we use these and the children we coach love the chance to answer new and different questions that they may never have been asked before!
3. Be Present And Ready To Listen
We know that it is not always easy to create a space where you can listen uninterrupted, but it’s essential to create this space if you want to facilitate great conversations.
This doesn’t just mean turning off your phone or TV. This is also about clearing your mind of any distractions or general busyness.
It may help to spend a few minutes alone to get in the right headspace before beginning a conversation.
A good way to do this is to write down your to-do list and all the things that are on your mind before you start the conversation.
This will stop your mind from wandering and allow you to fully focus on what’s being said.
4. Enjoy The Silence
As we’ve mentioned before, silence can be very powerful in allowing your child to really open up and fully explore everything that is going on for them.
By maintaining that silence for just a fraction longer than usual, you give the child thinking time.
It allows them to unscramble their thoughts, figure out the solution and craft what they want to say.
The silence can not only benefit the child but can benefit your listening skills too.
Use this time to explore body language, the shifts in energy and the change in tone from one sentence to the next.
Remember, there is no such thing as an awkward silence in these conversations.
Just wait, with curiosity and without expectation and often, in those silences, the magic will happen.
At Flourished Minds, we know that it is in the silences where the most significant transformations can take place.
5. Take Direction From Them
It can be easy to share your opinion, what you know to be true and give advice when your child is talking, but the most powerful conversations occur when they lead and you listen with curiosity.
It is important not to ask leading questions or try to give your side of the story.
Instead, use open and thoughtful language. A great way to get kids to open up more is to ask, ‘could you tell me more about…’.
If you want to keep the conversation going, this is a much better response than a closed question of ‘is that all?’
Other examples of questions that may help are; ‘when you did x, what outcome were you expecting?’ Or, ‘how did you feel about the outcome?’.
These are particularly useful when exploring a child’s behaviour.
If you do this, make sure to mirror the same language that they use, rather than using the words you might typically use.
For example, if they say, ‘I messed it up,’ don’t then say ‘what did it feel like when you made that mistake?’.
Your child may see ‘messing up’ and ‘making a mistake’ differently. So, where possible, try to use the same language that they use.
If you don’t understand the turn of phrase they use, just ask, ‘what do you mean when you say…?’
6. Be Careful With Your Tone
When a child opens up to you, they may say something that frustrates, angers or upsets you.
However, if you want to facilitate these powerful conversations, it is crucial to come across as calm and supportive.
The saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” is very true.
It’s very important to pay attention to the tone of your voice and how and which words you emphasise.
For example, if you take the sentence ‘How did you that?’, depending on the tone and the volume you use, that one sentence can have a different effect on and meaning to your question and, ultimately, the response you receive.
Whether you ask out of impressed curiosity, cynical disbelief or direct anger your tone will have an impact upon the response and engagement from that young person; not to mention the difference it will have on how they ‘feel’ about themselves.
Try saying the sentence with different emotions, and you’ll immediately see how just changing your tone can affect the meaning behind the words
If you want constructive engagement, consider the best tone to use to get the most enlightening response.
Are You Struggling With Difficult Conversations?
At Flourished Minds, we love having challenging conversations with young people and can help you to facilitate these with the right level of support.
We know how to create a safe space for positive and constructive conversations that help young people to understand and take responsibility for their actions, become more self-aware and really step into who they want to be.
All the tips we’ve shared with you are ones we actively use in our coaching sessions and come from a place of compassion, kindness and support.
To find out more about how we facilitate great conversations with children and teens, and how we can help you do the same, please get in touch.