Tips for Avoiding Blank Stares and One-Word Answers from Your Children

Hey, how are you doing? “Good.”

How was school today? “Fine.”

What’d you learn? “Nothing.”

Sound familiar? If you’re a parent of school-age kids, these infuriating answers are all too common. For parents of kindergartners, you’ll soon find it only takes a couple of months in the classroom to start receiving these one-word answers. It’s easy to blame kids for this communication fail, but a look in the mirror often reveals the unvarnished truth that many parents are unintentionally lazy when talking to their children.

“What you think is a conversation is really an interrogation to your kids,” said Rosalind Wiseman, a parenting educator and New York Times bestselling author. “You ask these general questions, and it’s just so much and so overwhelming that they default to ‘I’m fine’ out of frustration.”

But if you’re a parent who is open to a little soul-searching and willing to put in the extra effort, Wiseman said there are ways of getting kids to open up with small tweaks to how you communicate.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine you’re coming home from work after a really tough day. You just want to relax, shut your brain off for a little bit, and try to decompress. But you can’t do that because as soon as you walk in the door there are people pouncing on you with questions and expecting answers on the spot. Well, your kids are no different from you. Be sensitive to this dynamic and give them the benefit of a little downtime before starting a conversation.

Avoid Clichés and Get Creative
Ask a lazy question, you’ll get a lazy answer. Instead of generic questions, get specific to get more details. For example, rather than asking how their day was, ask who they sat with at lunch or who was acting the weirdest at school today. This catches them off guard and makes them stop and think. Instead of a one-word answer, maybe you find out your son is sitting alone at lunch and that’s why he’s been sad lately.

Show Affection and Connection
Instead of immediately grilling your young students for information about their day, try establishing a connection and forming some common ground first. A great way to do this is through music or TV, according to Wiseman.

“Just say ‘Hey, good to see you. How about you choose what goes on the radio while we make dinner.’”

By letting them pick music or make the call on what to watch on TV, you’re giving them a sense of control while letting them know you’re available, without being overbearing.

No Freaking Out Allowed
Remember that saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” Parents often only have one chance to show kids they can handle delicate conversations without completely freaking out. For instance, if children tell their parents that they’re upset about a lack of playing time on the school basketball team, and then mom or dad makes a scene after practice by yelling at the coach, that’s a big problem.

According to Wiseman, “when parents get angry and think they’re acting as an advocate for their child, the kids start to think ‘Well if you’re going to freak out about this then there’s no way I’m going to talk about things that are real problems, because you’re already out of control.’”

Even though it comes from a place of love and concern, you must contain these gut reactions. They may end up doing more harm than good.

Silence is Golden
 The act of listening is tough when parents  sense something is wrong.  Adults  naturally want to help resolve the issue, so first reaction is to drag information out of kids. While so much depends on the personality of each child, sometimes it really is best to back off and let them come to you.

“Very often, when parents stop asking so many questions, kids start to volunteer more information,” Wiseman said.

Be Strategic with Your Timing
At times, kids avoid talking  to their parents when they are emotionally upset. To combat that, Wiseman suggested strategically timing your conversations. Wait until after your kids get into bed and the lights are off to ask if there’s anything they want to talk about.

“I’ve worked with kids who say the darkness gives them safety because they don’t want their parents to see the looks on their faces,” Wiseman said. “Sometimes it’s too much for them to see the worry on their parents’ faces and the darkness prevents them from being overwhelmed.”

Practice Truly Listening
Parenting means hearing some difficult things and having awkward conversations you’d rather not have. Often, it also means disagreeing with what your kids are saying and how they’re handling it. However, Wiseman said kids get crossed up when they hear conflicting advice like “think for yourself” but then “do as I say” in the next breath.

“You don’t have to agree with what your kids are saying, but try to avoid giving conflicting advice and picking out the parts of what they’re saying that are wrong, just so you can disagree,” Wiseman said. “Truly listening means being prepared to be changed by what you hear.”

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