9 Ways to Make Parent-Child Communication a Habit in Your Home

How to get kids into the habit of sharing

parent child communication
Some of the best conversations happen during ordinary moments.. Terry Vine/J Patrick Lane/Getty Images

When children are young, they tend to excitedly share every single thing they encounter or experience with their parents. Kids may talk on and on about a caterpillar they saw in the garden or a cool Lego toy they built, and their favorite people to share every excitement with are mom and dad.

As children grow, their knowledge about their world expands, as does their ability to express their thoughts and opinions in words.

They become better critical thinkers and they question things more and increasingly form their own ideas about things. Ironically, as they gain more information and communication skills, they are less likely to share everything with parents. That's partly because their worlds naturally expand beyond just mom and dad to include friends, teachers, and other people they interact with regularly, and no matter how good their relationship with their parents may be, their social lives are developing and competing for their attention.

This natural focus away from home as kids grow is one of the key reasons why it's important for parents to establish good communication habits early with their children. If kids know that dinnertime is sharing time, for example, it will become second nature to them to talk about their day and share their thoughts about things at the dinner table. Getting your child into the habit of talking with you regularly will increase the chances that he'll keep you in the loop, even as he approaches adolescence, and will make it easier for him to come to you when he has a problem or needs your advice about something.

Here are some great ways you can make conversations a regular part of your daily routine:

  1. Set aside a regular time to talk. Whether it's dinnertime, bedtime or during a bath, establish a time every day that's your quiet time to connect and catch up without interruptions or distractions. The time of the day doesn't matter--what's important is that your child knows it's your private time together, when you and she can relax and talk about whatever is on your mind. Do this individually with each child, so that each kid has his or her unique time with you without having to share with a sibling.
     
  1. Make dinnertime a priority. No matter how busy you are, try to eat dinner together at least a few times a week. (Studies have shown that eating dinner regularly is linked to a host of benefits for kids, including improved academic performance, reduced risk of obesity, and even better emotional and mental health.) If regular family dinners are impossible or you don't have time to cook, try to find alternative solutions, like having breakfast together or getting take out from a restaurant. The key is to connect as a family on a regular basis, keep your relationship strong, and give your child the security of knowing that you are there when he needs you at regular and predictable times.
     
  2. Designate some special places in or around your home as your place to be together and be calm, quiet and talk. It could be a couple of chairs in your back yard, your sofa, or snuggled on your child's bed. Whatever the spot is, make it a place you can always go to when you need to hash out a problem or just touch base about your day.
     
  1. Incorporate conversations into regular routines. Often, kids feel more comfortable talking about things while they're engaged in another activity, like shooting hoops in the back yard, shopping for groceries, or working on some kids' crafts together. Other regular activities like going to the playground together or setting the table for dinner or driving to school in the morning can all be ideal opportunities to have conversations about what's going on in your lives.
     
  2. Let your child know that he can come to you whenever he needs to talk. When your child wants to tell you something, respond in a positive way. If you're in the middle of something, like returning an important work email or making dinner, ask your child if it's something that can wait until you've finished what you're doing. Then be sure to follow up and give him your full attention as soon as you can.
     
  3. Try to remove distractions when your child is speaking to you, especially if it's about something important she wants to share. Turn off the TV, put down your cell phone, and give your child your full attention. (Recent research shows that many kids today feel like their parents are distracted by their cell phones and other devices and aren't focused on them.)
     
  4. Ask specific questions. Questions like "How was your day" tend to get responses like "Good." Try to tailor your questions so that they're conversation starters. Ask things like, "What's the most interesting thing your teacher said today?" or "Did you friends do anything silly?" or "What was the most fun thing you did during recess and why did you like it so much?"
     
  5. Talk about things outside the home. Kids may feel pressure if they feel like they always have to share something about themselves. If you talk about other things in and outside your child's world, like what's going on with her friends or what's going on in the news, your child will express her thoughts and opinions, and in the process, naturally share something about herself.
     
  6. Set an example you want your child to follow. Talk about things that you're interested in and ask your child for his opinion. (Sharing something about yourself is actually one of the many ways you can show your child how much you love him every single day.) Of course, parents should not confide in kids or ask them for advice on serious matters. But since kids learn how to communicate largely by watching how their parents relate to people around them, be sure to set an example of openness and honesty. Let your child see you work out conflicts with your partner and other adults in a loving and constructive manner, and be loving and supportive when he comes to you with a problem.

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