The level of connection you have with your children can affect the quality of the relationship you have with them. When you feel connected, communication is more consistent, they are more likely to pay attention, they are more eager to help out, and everyone feels happier. On the other hand, when there is disconnect, there is less cooperation, more power struggles, more arguments and more conflict.
Meaningful conversations foster connection and contribute to a healthy parent-child bond. So how do you make these types of conversations happen? How do you help your children to share their experiences and remain engaged in conversation? Here are a few tips...
Consistent active listening
Before attempting to open up conversation, make sure you have time to actively listen to your child. Set aside tasks and other distractions (like your phone) and really pay attention to what they are saying. Consistently making time to be fully present with your children, even if just for a few minutes, can make all the difference in how they respond and their willingness to engage.
Pick your timing
Keep in mind that just like adults, children sometimes need time to decompress before they want to talk. If they have had a busy day, they could be feeling tired or overstimulated, and may need to give their minds a rest before chatting with you. If your child isn't very responsive to your first attempt, try again later.
When connecting with your child, any questions you ask them should be something that they can ask you, too. If your conversations tend to centre around school, grades and homework, they might start to feel they're being interrogated and will be less likely to engage. You want your children to feel comfortable talking and sharing about their lives with you. To keep them interested, try asking about their hobbies, their friends, what they are looking forward to, and the things that bring them joy. This helps to keep the conversation flowing.
Create space for fun
If your child is feeling stressed, overstimulated or disconnected, they might have a harder time opening up. Try doing an activity and having some fun together first to lighten the mood. Board games, making favourite snacks, an outdoor activity, kicking a ball around, or doing some craft together are all great options. Ask your child to pick an activity they'd like to do with you, or offer them some suggestions that you can both enjoy together.
Make it a habit
Like most things, consistency is key, but consistency can be hard to achieve with busy schedules or as your children get older. To help with this, some families have traditions around time spent together, like shared mealtimes or weekly family nights. These traditions give both kids and caregivers something to look forward to, where they can reconnect and share in each other's worlds.
Get creative and try asking open questions
When we ask kids the same question again and again, they will likely get bored or respond with the same answer every time, without actually giving it much thought. Kids have creative minds, so asking open-ended and thought-provoking questions helps to keep them engaged and encourages them to think outside of the box and use their imagination.
Things you can ask instead of "How was your day?"
When children get home from school or spending time with friends, we are often eager to hear all about their day and want them to share with us all the fun and exciting things we imagine they got up to. After a day apart, we want to reconnect. The first question we ask is usually something along the lines of "How was your day?" and the response is generally "good", "okay", or a shrug of the shoulders. If you want to foster connection, discussion, and open the door to more than just one-word answers, why not try some of these alternatives:
For little kids:
What made you feel happy today?
Who did you play with today?
Who did you eat lunch with today?
What made you feel sad today?
What was your favourite activity today?
For bigger kids:
What colour is your heart today? Why?
Who did you sit with at lunch today?
What did you play at recess/with who?
Did you catch anyone doing something funny?
What did you like best about your day?
Was there anything that happened today that made you feel bad?
What was the most interesting thing that you learnt at school today?
Did you try anything new or different today?
What made you feel proud of yourself today?
What are your top 3 feelings today?
Can you tell me about something kind you did today?
What was your most and least favourite part of your day?
What made you feel proud today?
What made you smile or laugh today?
Is there anything you've been finding really challenging lately?
What thoughts have been circling your mind?
Tell me about something you feel grateful for...
What have you done today to take care of yourself?
What friend are you most grateful for today? Why?
Can you tell me about something you're really looking forward to?
If you find you're still struggling to connect with your children, we can help. Our counsellors work with parents and children of all ages to help build on connection, navigate conflict and power struggles, improve communication, and foster happy and healthy parent-child relationships.