This blog was completed in collaboration with Jeff Stephans, a member of an elite squad… proud dads with daughters. You can check out his anecdotes at CrazyDadLife.com
Remember the good ol’ days when families would get home from work and school, a warm home cooked dinner would be prepared, then everyone would sit down and have a nice meal together as a family? Well, if you are a parent of children under 18, chances are that nowadays those experiences are sporadic at best.
Let’s face it, sitting down at the table with the family every night for dinner is a lost art. Put it up there with pulling out your checkbook register at the grocery store and balancing your checkbook right there as everyone queues up (although this still surprisingly happens and usually in your line).
While you may not be able to coordinate a specific and consistent time for everyone to be together at once, communication is still incredibly important to understand what’s going on in your kids’ lives.
Here are 6 opportunities for engaging your kids in conversation and making the most of the times you do spend together.
1. Morning Prep - Yes, mornings are usually hectic. But, as you are fixing lunches and gathering stuff for their backpack, talk to your child about the day to come. With teens this may be difficult as they are borderline zombies in the morning, but try to get them to open up anyway. What’s coming up in school? How do you feel about the Spanish test? What’s the after school plan? Avoid the yes/no questions (e.g. Did you study for your Spanish test?), because chances are you’ll just get a one-word response. Ask open ended questions, and don’t forget to share about your day too. Conversation is mutual. It also helps your kid start to understand that mornings are meant to get your day organized and to prepare yourself for all that you have planned for the day.
2. After School - The school day is over and your child jumps in the car or meets you at home. First question from the parent is usually, “How was school?” to which the usual response is “good.” Apparently that response sums up EVERYTHING. Try a different approach next time. What’s the best thing that happened today? What’s the worst? This will open doors to not only talk about their academics, but their personal experiences too. Listen, and don’t forget to offer your best/worst happenings in exchange.
3. The Chauffeur - You probably have the pleasure of driving your kid around to various sports, after school activities, or social events. Take car time to talk about external events, like pop culture, current events, politics, sports, and entertainment. Ask their opinions and offer your own. Play devil’s advocate and gauge their interest or ability to see the other side of the argument. Fostering these critical thinking skills with complex language and new vocabulary will make them a stronger thinker, while staying connecting to the world around them.
4. Texting - People may raise their eyebrows when mentioning texting as a method to communicate with their kids, but this is the 21st century and let’s face it, kids are constantly head down in their phones. It may be short conversations, but it means a lot to the kids that their parents are ‘plugged in.’ Keep your conversations with your children on a private level, and make sure you ask open-ended questions. If their response is still short, and you’re craving some elaboration, a simple “...” or “???” might do the trick.
5. Night Time Wind Down - The family finally gets to spend some time at home as activities come to an end. Dinner is thrown together and eaten quickly wherever people may be located, doing homework or other nightly tasks. Continue to keep your kids involved in communication. Ask questions and see if they want to “work” together. Create a quiet environment, and as you’re catching up on emails, your child can sit across the table working on an English paper. Chances are if you’re sitting there, they may ask you for a little help, opening more doors to communication.
6. Bedtime - The long day is finally over. Take the time to talk to your kids as you tuck them into bed. Communication at this point is softer and more personal. No need to discuss planning, school, and the general insanity of tomorrow. Spend the time to listen to your child and hear what they have to say. These times are often the most important and reinforce the fact you are always there for them, proud of them, and don’t forget to tell them you love them.
Just remember to have fun, enjoy the exchanges with your children, and make their opinion feel welcomed and valued. Open communication and using these 6 opportunities for conversation will encourage them to get talking, not just at the dinner table.
Jeff Stephens is a proud dad blogger from the Washington DC area. His website, CrazyDadLife.com, is dedicated to all those parents that are experiencing the craziness of raising kids in today’s non-stop world. His insight, advice, and stories from the front lines provide a humorous and (sometimes) informational slant on navigating daily family chaos.