The more you listen, the more your kids will feel heard, and the more they will talk, Macaulay said. Use simple prompts like “Really?” and “Hunh?” to keep the conversation going, and let your child know you are listening.
Don’t try to fix problems as your child tells you about them. It will shut down the conversation. Instead, ask your child how they think the problem can get better. Then you can help them brainstorm ideas, especially if this is the first time you are giving them this opportunity.
Set up rituals
Eating dinner together, and having routines for bedtime and morning helps adults and kids feel secure and comforted.
At dinner, keep conservation light, instead of trying to solve problems at that time. “Don’t have dinner be about conflict resolution, you want it to be about connecting,” Macaulay said.
Family dinners are important
Paula Swope, director of programs for Informed Families, a prevention-based outreach group in Miami, said that eating together at least four times a week as a family not only helps foster communication, but can help in the prevention of substance abuse among youth. (Informed Families is a sponsor of Family Day on Sept. 23, which promotes eating dinner together as a family that day.)
Swope said family dinners were a practice she set up early with her two kids. Now 22 and 24, they still come over every Sunday morning for breakfast and family conversation, where they reconnect and catch up.
“When there are problems to solve, it tends to come out more in the open,” Swope said. And when families eat together regularly, “kids use drugs less … because the parents’ standards and expectations are set high, and set up in the open.”
Joanne Lopez, a Kendall mom of three, created a game to get families talking together at meals called “Today I ... The Art of Simple Conversation for Families.”
It "was created at our dinner table,” said Lopez, an advertising manager for the Miami Herald. “For years, we each shared a highlight from the day around our dinner table. One day we decided to start the conversation with other topics. We wrote down some ideas, placed in a tin on our table and used it to share events from our day with each other.”
The table is a place where everyone comes together, Lopez said. “For us it is the place of family team building. We share, coach, listen, laugh and learn from and with each other. Sharing moments from the day help to create the bond.”
Macaulay said every step helps in forging family bonds, and creating the sense of security and comfort that will help a child open up and talk.
“Focus on making connections throughout the day, and stop focusing on the time right after school,” Macaulay said. “Wait, and conversation will happen.”