By Susy Lee, author of Raising Kids Who Care
Parenting research shows that we spend a lot of time worrying about our kids, that much of our worry is relational, and it includes wondering how to talk to our kids! As busyness and device time increases, families are spending less time building strong cultures of communication before the complexity of teenage years.
Yet communication is the best tool we have for life and love. It’s the foundation of friendships, conflict resolution, persuasion, and decision-making. Families need to have good conversations, but also make sure they’re talking about the important stuff of life.
So how do we work on our family conversations?
- Ask good questions. Instead of ‘how was your day?’ try asking: ‘what was the best thing that happened at school today?’ If we’re curious and ask follow-up questions to show we’re really interested, we’ll balance all those times as parents we’re just ‘telling’!
- Create conversations that add value. Being part of a collaborative team that comes up with creative solutions and gets acknowledged for their great work is a wonderful feeling at work, right? We can bring that positive energy to our family conversations too.
- Learn to listen (it’s a skill). We have two ears and one mouth, but we often use them disproportionally. When someone actively listens to us, we feel loved – it’s one of the best ways to show we care. Contrast that to the way you feel when you want your feelings to be heard and you just get told what you should do instead. Advanced listening skills help us work out what emotions we’re feeling so we can manage them better.
- Go deeper. Talkative Rhea Zakich had throat surgery and had to be silent for several months. She realised during her quiet time that her family didn’t talk about deep thoughts and feelings. She began writing down questions she wished people would ask her and those she couldn’t ask out loud. This became a game played by millions of people called ‘Ungame’. Try ‘deep talk’ instead of ‘small talk’ at dinner.
- Be intentional. There are some areas of life we need to prepare our children for, but we can often forget in the bustle of life. Apparently, we’d rather talk to our kids about sex than money, but who else will guide them? Try talking about how to forgive, build resilience, the difference between happiness and contentment, the effect of technology, developing character strengths, purpose, poverty or household energy usage. What matters to you? What matters to your kids?
- Believe in them. Children rise to the level of our expectations, but often know more than we expect. Young people want to be part of something big and important. I’ve been amazed by kids showing deep generosity and compassion when given the opportunity. I surveyed caring young adults for advice about how to raise kids who care, and most said ‘talk to your kids – don’t shelter them from the world or they’ll be unprepared.’
Let’s aim our ears lower and our goals higher in our family conversations, and if we’re lucky, our children’s youthful creativity and idealistic optimism just might rub off on us too.
About the Author
Susy Lee has built these conversation ideas into her book: ‘Raising Kids Who Care: Practical conversations for exploring stuff that matters, together.’ Parenting expert Steve Biddulph says “this book turns on its head our focus on making kids happy, and instead shows how to make them generators of happiness.” Visit https://www.raisingkidswhocare.info for details.
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