Simple Mom-Tested Secrets to Get Kids to Tell You What’s Really Going On In their Life

by | Oct 5, 2013 | Articles

Simple Mommy Secrets

Most teachers will admit there are some students who just never leave your heart. Six-year-old Ricky was one of those kind of children. He was adorable: bright red hair, a face filled with freckles, a huge Cheshire-cat type grin that went from ear to ear. He also had a sharp mind, a memory filled with historical facts, and a heart of pure gold. He also had severe attention deficits and learning disabilities which was why he was placed in my special education classroom. One morning I found him at the art center busily creating a beautiful paper heart.

“That’s lovely, Ricky,” I commented.
“Thanks, it’s for my Mom,” he quietly explained.
“Really? Is it her birthday?”
“Nope,” he smiled.
“So what’s the occasion?” I asked curiously.

I must admit, I’ve never forgot that child’s response. Almost twenty years later I can still remember his answer: “I’m making her a card because she always makes my feelings feel good. I tell her anything. She listens.”

Well, I couldn’t wait to meet this mother to see just what she did to make her child’s “feelings feel so good.”

I had the opportunity the following week at our parent-child reading party. Within seconds of connecting with her child it was obvious that this mom was a master at a powerful secret of effective parenting: listening to her son and making his feelings feel so good. And she used such simple strategies to do so: Each time her son talked, she’d stop, look into her son’s eyes, and listen with genuine interest. Her words usually were nothing more than repeating back small tidbits of what Ricky just said to let him know she was hearing him. Occasionally she’d add, “Uh huh,” or “Really?” She acknowledged him by simply saying how she thought he was feeling “You seem so happy,” or “Ricky, you look proud.” The affect on her son was dramatic: his whole demeanor brightened, realizing his mom really was interested in what he had to say. Using the simple secrets of active listening encouraged Ricky to talk (and talk and talk) and obviously “made his feelings feel good.”

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity of watching other moms who just have the knack of knowing how to listen to their kids. Those same moms also confided to me how blessed they felt in having such strong relationships with their children and told me how lucky they were that their kids felt safe to tell them just about anything. But after watching them with their kids I realized their ability to get their kids to open up wasn’t due to luck at all: these moms knew a few few secrets as to how to listen the right way so their kids wanted to talk. The best news is that you can use these same tips with your children. Believe me, I’ve used them with mine. Here are a few secrets to getting your kids to open up to you:

  • Don’t push. Silence sometimes is golden. Wait until the right time and then refrain from sounding like a prosecutor. Think of friends you really feel comfortable talking to. They’re usually calm and open. Use that same listening strategy when you’re with your child.
  • Listen during active times. Some kids (particularly boys) are more responsive to talking when they are doing something active. So find active things your child likes to do (fishing, kicking around a soccer ball, building blocks shooting baskets), and talk together. You may find your child is more conductive to talking.
  • Talk about your child’s interests. try tailoring the conversation around your child’s interests: her CD collection, his baseball cards, her Strawberry Shortcake doll, his Power Ranger collection. It might be a great entrée to a discussion about what’s really going on in your kid’s life.
  • Go to your kid’s zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time with your kid, then go to a place your kid enjoys: A mall, the batting cage to practice his swing, the golf range to hit a bucket of balls, a local malt shop for ice cream. You child will be more relaxed because he’s in his territory and just might be more likely to open up.
  • Ask specific questions. Kids get turned off by those generic: “How was your day?” type questions. If you want to invite conversations, then ask more specific questions: “Who did you sit next to during lunch?”, “What story did your teacher read today?” “What game did you play at recess?.”
  • Ask questions that elicit more than one-word responses. Make skillful use of your questions so that your child must respond with more than a one-word answer: “How would you have ended that book?” “What would you have done differently in the game?” “What are your feelings about…?”
  • Find the best time and place for listening. Research finds that parents can learn a lot about their kids en route to school and activities. The car pool when your kids are locked in the car with you can be a great place to talk. During one of my son’s challenging preadolescent days I realized it was next to impossible to have any kind of conversation with him before noon.( I swear he was on a different time zone). I did finally discover there was a time he was more open: it was around five o’clock in the kitchen. And so that’s where I’d plant myself each day where I’d start dinner or do kitchen tasks because I knew that was my best shot for a conversation with him. The result: success! So now think: Where is the place where you and your kids have those great conversations? It’s the one spot you don’t want to give up on too quickly.
  • Mandate family dinners. If your home is anywhere like ours, sports, church group meetings, music lessons, and play practices used to constantly appear on the calendar, taking away fro our “together time.” So we finally sat down and figured out the times no one had anything scheduled, and those were mandated for family dinners. If your family schedule is equally hectic, you may want to set aside specific weekdays for your family dinners. Don’t let anything interfere with your plan: family dinners still are the greatest place to give your kids your full attention and hear what’s going on in their lives.
  • Turn on the answering machine. Many moms now set a “no phone policy” from six to eight in the evening. They’ve figured that’s the time when their family usually gathers for family meals and sharing their day and they let them know there’s nothing more important than what they have to say. Sure, the phone may ring, but just turns on the answering machine. Set times in your home where listening to your kids with your full presence matters most.

The most important secret to improving conversations with kids: cease the judgments! Try, try, try to stay non-critical. Judging, criticizing, or always offering advice are big-time communications stoppers for kids. Believe me, there were times I had to literally bite my tongue, but I learned that holding opinions was real secret in getting my kids really say what was on their minds.