We all know that getting children to open up and talk can be like pushing water up a hill with a fork sometimes, but new research by Renault shows that children are 54 per cent more likely to open up about topics such as what happened at school and trouble with friends when mum or dad are behind the wheel; whilst a third of parents also admit THEY find it easier to talk about more delicate subjects with their little ones – such as the birds and the bees – while driving.
According to the study, top car confessions included issues concerning friendships at school, trouble at school, unfavourable test results and issues concerning growing pains, self-esteem and bullying.
I had a chat with Dr Linda Papadopolous, leading family psychologist to find out more about why it can be so difficult to get our children to talk to us, and glean some tips on how to get your child to talk to you.
Why can it be so difficult to get children to talk?
Children can find it difficult to talk sometimes because they are usually still trying to process the subject themselves, before they are able to communicate it to their parents. Their methods of communication evolve so much as they develop that it’s not always easy for them to know how to communicate what they want to at any one particular time.
Children also don’t want to disappoint their parents, even though whatever it is, usually won’t. They want to please their family, but can’t always process the subject to know that it will be OK. So it’s important to make them feel safe and know that everything they want to talk about will be.
Some things are harder to talk about when a child feels like they are under the spotlight. Kids opening up during car journeys are a great example of this, where parents can listen while facing away, creating an environment where they feel more relaxed and likely to open up.
How can you tell the difference between if it’s just a phase or something more permanent?
Look for how long that thing lasts in their lives – how often you talk about something or over what period. Usually, whatever it is will decrease in frequency and importance. But if they seem to be struggling to solve the issue or it maintains over time, it could be something they need help with.
What importance do the words parents use have in getting their children to talk?
The most important thing is to ensure your child feels safe and comfortable to talk, and speak at a level they understand. It’s important that they feel able to make mistakes and learn from them, so separate who they are from their actions.
What strategies can parents try to get their children talking?
Try going for a drive. The great thing about talking to your child in the car is that neither the parent or the child is under the direct gaze of the other, they don’t feel like they are in the spotlight. So both find it easier to listen and talk – about what happened that day, things that might be bothering them, etc. We feel secure and are more likely to open up.
Listen to your child whenever you can, they may provide you with an opening when you don’t expect it, so be ready to talk. Try opening up about your day too – what went well or how something made you feel, etc. It’s important for them to realise that not all days are the same and the different things can happen no matter what age, which will help them relate and open up about things that have happened or are happening to them.
Ask your child open ended questions, so they expand a little more. What was the best part of your day, what happened today that you least expected, etc. Make sure they talk about the positive things that happened, not just the things they didn’t enjoy so much.
And also what conversation openers parents can look out for that their children might offer up?
Children are often more obvious than you think when they want to talk about something. They might ask you about ‘a friend’ or how you felt about something or handled a certain situation. Also, listen out for silences – sometimes it’s what they don’t talk about that you should be listening out for.
How important is special time and being available to your children important in getting them to talk?
It’s so important to make the time to listen to your children whenever you can, even if it’s for 20 seconds or 20 minutes. On the way to school, the shops or driving on a family trip. Whilst special time is important, sometimes important conversations are had when you don’t expect them or in certain situations like the car, so it’s important to listen whenever your child talks to you. But not all topics or issues need to be resolved in a single conversation, the most important thing is to break the ice so further conversations can take place if needed.
Children are often creatures of habit, so find what works best for you and your child. Whatever that might be.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule for what situation or time is best for which conversation for which people. Everyone is different so we react differently to different situations. Be flexible and ready to listen and talk whenever your child opens up.
Do you have trouble getting your child to talk to you? What strategies have you tried and which have worked for you? Do leave a comment and share below.
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