As another Christmas passes and we look forward to a new year, one good resolution is to have some regular, repetitive things that you do “in family” to stimulate better communication with your kids. You will want to develop and tailor your own communication ideas to fit your unique family, but here are some examples of things that have worked for other families.
These ideas are taken from our past writings, including our book "The Entitlement Trap," a past column for Meridian Magazine and our websites, including familynightlessons.com and valuesparenting.com.
1. Bedtime “happys or sads.” As you tuck a child in bed, ask, “What was your happy today? What was your sad?” Over the course of many evenings, you’ll learn a lot about your child’s friends, social situations, school, fears, etc.
2. Active listening. Once you have asked a question, listen “actively” by paraphrasing back to your child each thing he or she says to you. This shows interest and non-judgment. Instead of interrogating or directing or drawing conclusions, just rephrase whatever your child says. “So you felt bad when Lisa sat with someone else at lunch.” When you listen without directing, kids will jump from subject to subject — often from effect to cause — and will tell you things you’d never think to ask. Practice the same technique with your spouse.
3. Goals and “consulting.” Even fairly small children can set goals for the week. Each Sunday, ask a child to set three goals for the week ahead: one for school (a high test score, a paper turned in, etc.); one for personal development (sports, music, Scouting, etc.); and one for family (cleaning room, fixing something, etc.). Set the example by setting your own weekly goal for each of the same three categories (substituting work for school). As a family, perhaps in family home evening, explain your goals to each other. It will lead to a lot of communication about a lot of subjects, and you will feel (both to yourself and to your child) more like a consultant helping with his goals and less like a pushy manager trying to get kids to follow your goals and agenda.
4. Sunday dinners. While the old family dinner concept may have pretty well lost out to fast food and overcommitted schedules, sitting down together at the table at least a couple of times a week is still realistic. Pick out at least two days each week and make a dinner reservation — at home — for everyone. Use the time to talk about schedules for the week and then ask questions to each other about feelings, dreams, priorities and concerns.
5. Car time. All that time we spend driving kids to school, to lessons, etc. — time we usually resent — can be “captive” communication time. Ask “interest questions” (“I’m interested in that new math teacher. How is she?”) rather than “interrogation questions.” (“How’s your grade coming along in math?”)
6. “One to 10.” When kids have a hard time talking about their feelings, or where you’re getting just “yes” or “no” or “fine” answers to your questions, try the “ranking” technique. Say, “I’m going to mention five separate things to you and you rank how worried you are about them from 1 to 10.” “Ranking” works on everything from how much they enjoyed a date to how important they perceive various things to be. Once they’ve ranked something, it gets easier to talk and ask further “active listening” questions about whatever the subject is.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."