Your kids want to talk to you. 10 tips for better communication

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Nearly every day one of my preschool-aged twins attempt to tell me something that sounds like “smeilfehaseif”. Over and over I ask, “What are you saying?” After the third or fourth time, my son usually grunts in frustration and then yells his unknown request one more time. Even my six-year-old has been known to jump in to unsuccessfully translate what is being said. It’s frustrating for everyone involved.

These kinds of experiences show me just how much my kids want to talk to me. I don’t think that need to communicate changes as our children age. But, the way we communicate with our kids can shut down their desire to keep trying. My four-year-old will keep trying over and over again. A teenager may not. How can you encourage positive communication with your kids? The ten following tips can help keep that desire to communicate strong in your kids.

1.    Listen, listen, listen When kids want to talk

I am the seventh of eight kids and the house I grew up in was loud. My siblings and even my parents learned to talk over one another out of sheer desperation. As a result, even today my large family will get together and the noise will overwhelm me. It can be pretty difficult to hear what any one person is saying because no one is listening. Since I’ve had my own kids, I’ve had to learn to hone my listening skills.

Your kids know when you aren’t listening to them and it makes them feel loved and valued when you listen. Kids want to talk to their parents. Model positive listening skills, and teach them how to listen too. Read them books. Tell them stories. When you listen to your kids, and they listen to you, magic happens.

2. Skip the yes or no questions

Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” will kill your conversation with your kids. Rather than giving them an easy out, try refining your questions. Have them describe or explain what they are talking about. Leave questions open-ended and don’t take a simple shrug or “yeah” for an answer.

3. Stop correcting when kids want to talk

I have three young boys. The words poop and butt are (unfortunately) a common part of my kids vocabulary. If I stopped to correct my kids every time they said butt, they probably wouldn’t finish a whole sentence. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to curb some of the conversation and behaviors that you don’t like, but sometimes it’s more important that your child trusts you to listen than it is to curb the use of the word “butt” in conversation.

4. Know when to stop talking

We live in a fast-paced world and we want conversations to be quick. Unfortunately, rushing your kids can shut them down. When you ask a question, wait. Don’t rush things. If given time, your child will match your conversation.

5. Fill in the cracks with conversation

When I was learning to drive my dad would take me out to the back roads in our small town and let me drive to my heart’s content. I’d drive and he’d occasionally correct my driving. We’d also talk. I didn’t realize it then but those hours spent driving improved our relationship.

My dad didn’t sit me down to “talk”. He fit it into the cracks. When we were working in the yard. On the way to basketball practice at 6 am. While making dinner. All those little conversations add up.

Do the same with your kids. Don’t save your chats for long uninterrupted time together. Talk on the way home from school. While doing homework. At the grocery store. All of the small moments will add up to something amazing.

6. Pay attention to the details

Are you really hearing what your child is saying? What color was her best friends’ favorite shirt that she spilled lunch on? In which class period did your son finish his quiz first? Listen for the details and then ask questions about those details.

7. Talk about yourself

It might not seem like it, but your child wants to know what is happening in your life. Talk about work. Tell them about your time at the gym. Not only will they learn more about you, but it’ll inspire them to talk about themselves. My six-year-old son loves to ask his dad about his work. Not because he really cares about all things engineering, but because he loves his dad.

8. Give advice

No, your child doesn’t always want your advice. That being said, they need your direction. Always empathize and listen first. Keep it short and simple, but don’t be afraid to give them your thoughts. Brainstorm together about how they can solve difficult situations in their life.

9. Talk about feelings

Kids want empathy. One way to do this is to talk about feelings. Use phrases that point out emotion. For example:  “That must have made you sad and upset when your friends wouldn’t let you play.” It validates your child’s feelings while helping them process what happened.

10. Pay attention to body language when kids want to talk

When you child is talking to you, do you look them in the eyes? Have you turned your body to show them that they have your attention or are you busy trying to multi-task? Maintain eye contact. Meet them at their level (kneel down mama!) Smile. The way your body looks when your child is talking will either encourage or discourage your child from continuing to communicate with you. Most importantly, put down your phone.

Communication with your kids isn’t always easy. But, it is worth it to find ways to better communicate with your children. They want to talk to you. Make it easier for them to confide in you.

How do you communicate with your kids? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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