I had to eat a slice of humble pie recently when I was talking with my daughter. She shared some ideas for her future that left me surprised and confused. Rather than simply listening to understand, I reacted. Feelings took over and our conversation crashed and burned. Later she told me, “Mom, that wasn’t a conversation. You didn’t even ask any questions!” Thankfully she gave me a do-over to hear her out. And in the end, her plans sound pretty exciting!
Can you relate? I know that you and I are both crazy about our kids. We’re their biggest cheerleaders on the field or the stage. We’re deeply invested in their learning and interests. We celebrate their friendships and hurt when they suffer the pain of rejection. Their health—in body, mind, and spirit—is our top priority. We want to be the ones they run to with their needs and worries, questions and creative ideas. Yet no matter how much we love and care, it can be so difficult for kids to open up to us about their lives.
Is it hard to get more than a yes or no answer from your child these days? Do you wonder if they’re truly okay or just putting on a brave face? Does it feel like a wall is growing between you, brick by brick? Here are five ways to open up communication with your child today.
1) Be present
If you’re like us, you have a million things competing for your attention. It’s tough to stop, unplug, and simply “be.” But our kids know when we’re only listening with one ear. They don’t want to compete with our phones for eye contact. They need to know we can put our tasks aside and put them first.
To encourage conversation, let’s bring back family meals around the table. Let’s power off our devices and play an old-school board game or get outside. Let’s swing in a hammock or warm up around a bonfire. Let’s linger at bedtime and tuck them in like when they were little. The gift of our time says, You matter. I’m with you. We’re in this together.
2) Ask good questions
For us, any question that can be answered with “fine” won’t get us too far. Instead, it helps to be specific and creative. We can ask what made our kids feel proud or disappointed in their day, or what cracked them up or bored them to death. We can ask about their favorite things, their hopes for the weekend, or what they’d do with $100. Open-ended questions leave room for answers from the heart.
We can honor our kids with our own questions, too. Each time we ask for their opinion or advice, we communicate that they’re smart. Useful. Creative. Insightful. By inviting suggestions for next week’s menu or the next vacation, which color to paint their room, or what to wear to your second-cousin’s wedding, they know their words are welcome and weighty in your eyes.
3) Practice the pause
Kids are, well, kids. They’re immature and still figuring out who they are and how life works. In much of what they say, it’s clear that plenty of childish “folly” is tangled up in their hearts (Proverbs 22:15). It’s tempting to respond to their immaturity with correction, criticism, or triggered emotions. But if we react to our kids with negativity or big feelings, they are sure to shut down.
With the Spirit’s help, we can be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Instead of jumping in with input and advice, we can pause and wait to hear more. Before we hurry to set them straight, we can gently investigate how they formed their ideas in the first place. Instead of getting caught up in our own emotions, we can pause to understand how they’re feeling first.
By remaining calm and giving our kids freedom to think out loud, they know we accept them, love them, and are a safe space to share what’s inside.
4) Be real
In our love, we want to be the shoulder our kids cry on. We savor each glimpse of their hopes and dreams for the future. It’s fun to see them exploring the world and sharing what they experience. When they fall on their faces, we want to be the ones they call on for help. But as much as we crave that vulnerability from our children, it starts with you and me.
Are we able to apologize when we’ve made a mistake? Can we admit we’ve had a hard day or that stress got the best of us? Do we share our memories of when we, too, were bullied? Embarrassed? Forgetful or careless? Wrong? Can we simply ask for a hug when we’re tired or hurting? Can we stop pretending we know all the answers? When we let our kids see that we, too, have needs and questions and failures, they can share their weaknesses too.
5) Take action
It’s amazing that we have the perfect example of parenting in our Father God. All through the Bible, we’re given assurance that He listens and responds to all we say.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live. (Psalm 116:1-2)
He hears our prayers. Meets our needs. Forgives our failings. He’s attentive to every detail of what we’re going through, and He plants His desires in our hearts. In Him we are seen, known, and cared for in every way. He does more than just listen—He responds with help and love.
For our kids, they know they are loved and heard when we act on what they say. Maybe they share how they hate the teasing, tickling, or nickname we use, so we stop. We pencil their cravings on the grocery list and buy their next hoodie in their favorite color. If they talk about a new friend at school, we set up a play date. When they mention next week’s unit test, we offer study help and prayer. They feel stressed when running late? Set an alarm and get out the door on time. By responding to our kids with action, we show that their words truly mean something to us.
If you feel like the doors to communication have slammed shut for you and your child, please know you’re not alone. Reach out any time for friendship and prayer for you and your family. We’re thankful that we can grow, together, in loving and listening to our kids.
Need some help starting open-ended conversations? Check out our Conversation Starters for Families!