Our goal to know our children doesn’t seem like an impossible goal. But then, we can realize that a whole week has gone by and we haven’t said anything to our children except the necessities. That isn’t the worst part, we have let a whole week go by without hearing anything but one word answers to our questions along with a nod, shrug, or blank-eyed stare.
There is a simple way to make sure we are hearing what our children are thinking about. It begins with a plan and then the commitment to keep to the plan. Set aside 10 minutes a day to listen to each child.
Children each have their “best” time of the day to talk. For many children it is right after they arrive home from preschool, kindy, or school. They have lots of stories about their day that they want to share with someone who will listen. If this is your child, plan and commit yourself to taking the first 10 minutes after arriving home (and before chores) to sit, cuddle, and listen to your child. They may bubble over with information or they may soak up your presence for a while before talking. Either way, ask an open-ended question that cannot be answered with “yes”, “no”, a nod, a shrug, or a simple fact. They have to think a little or remember something or express how an event made them feel. Follow-up questions may ask about how they reacted, what were other ways they could have responded, or what they want to do about it.
After 10 minutes, they may follow you into the kitchen and talk more while you prepare dinner. Keep your heart open and be ready to be a support and encourage your child.
For some children, it is during the bedtime routine that they want to open up. If this is your child’s best time, then plan your 10 minutes of listening as part of the bedtime routine. As they get into their teen years, bedtime or later will probably become their favorite time to talk.
Another time may be in the car. Some children really like to talk when you are not looking directly at them. They may find it is easier to talk when your eyes are on the road. This is fine. Find the way your own child can most easily express themselves.
Now, the trick is not to use this time to correct them or tell them your own story or intimidate them. If they feel like they will only open themselves up for scolding or a lecture, they will soon find ways to avoid the 10 minutes with you.
At some other time in the next day or so, you may say that you have been thinking about what they talked about. Then you might be able to tell your story or share some other ideas about ways to handle similar situations. Don’t make this part of the 10 listening, though.
Soak up these precious moments with your child. Remember what they talked about. Think about how they are experiencing their world. They will love your attention and it will be one of their sweetest memories of childhood.