I remember when my kids were about 9 and 10. I began talking with the parents of teenagers about what to expect. “Just you wait,” was a common answer. And this response was often accompanied by a sense of resignation for the loss of relationship and open conversation that these parents were experiencing. Short answers and a decrease in sharing was to be expected.
Fortunately, I also had friends with teenagers who were very open with their parents—certainly not sharing everything, but more than enough to make the parents feel there was a deep connection between them and their teens.
This contrast triggered my exploration of what I was doing or not doing that might determine how conversations would go in our family. I immediately noticed that I was not responding thoughtfully or powerfully when Jesse or Amy asked me questions. They would ask, “What happened at work today?” “What did you do on your trip? Did you do anything fun?” I realized they were asking because they were truly curious, and I needed to be more thoughtful in my responses.
Our children are interested in us and what we do. They love to know what happens when we are at work or away from home.
Good conversation is like a dance, with one person leading and the other following. This holds true in vibrant relationships, and everyone needs to take a turn at leading. One of the most powerful things you can do to keep your kids talking when they get older is to share with them often when they are young.
When they ask how your day was, do not respond with a short answer. Responding with short answers trains them to do the same when you ask them about school. Let this be your standard response when anyone in your family asks you about your day: “Well, here are a couple of things you might be interested in….” Or, “Thanks for asking. Here is what I did today.”
Don’t hold back. Don’t filter. Tell your kids about the things that went well. The things that didn’t go well. The things you worried about. The things you got excited about. Give them details. Take your time. Add a little storytelling.
Think of it this way: In all relationships that matter to you, if you are invited or asked to speak, you must respond. Of course, you can always ask for some time to relax or get something done first, but be sure to follow up and respond in a thoughtful, interesting way.
This practice of noticing and responding invitations to converse will pay dividends forever.
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