When our children are infants, we cannot wait for them to say their first word. Pretty soon they are stringing together words into sentences and sentences into hours and hours of conversation. First, they go through the “Why?” stage, so inquisitive and curious. As they grow older, they chat with us about friends and school and things that are happening in their lives. However, sometimes the tendency to engage in conversations with you as a parent begins to wane. When it does, what can you do to keep the lines of communication open and engage them in important discussions?
Here are seven ways I have found to get your kids to open up and dialogue with you about significant life matters.
Lean in and listen.
We need to fight against the urge to make our conversations one-sided. We shouldn’t approach our time with them as simply an opportunity to lecture and preach. The best way to do this is to lean in and listen. Pay attention to what your child is saying to you, sometimes even in passing. Is there an issue they are struggling with? Are they having relational trouble with a friend or someone at school or on a sports team? Be attentive to what they are saying, and even those times when they are saying it without a word. Their tone of voice or body language for actions may clue you into something going on in their life. Occasionally we need to listen between the lines to pick up on what our kids are currently dealing with.
Wait until nightfall.
I am not sure what it is about night time, but kids are more apt to open up and talk once the sun has gone down and they have settled in for the night. Fix them a snack or a favorite beverage and nestle up next to them on the couch to try to initiate a conversation. Or, make it a habit to sit on the edge of their bed as they retire for the night and ask them to name both the high point and low point of their day. This often opened up the lines of communication with our children as they shared with us what made them smile that day but also what made them frustrated.
Meet them on their turf.
Don’t just always have adult topics on the agenda. Meet them on their turf. Find out what hot topics are happening in their age bracket or at their school. Knowing you took the time to learn what kids their age are talking about will show your love and care for them.
Quote someone they admire.
If there is a topic you would like to dialogue with your child about but you don’t know how to bring it up, take some time to scour social media or the Internet and find out if someone they look up to is talking about the issue. Is there a singer or actor who is a positive influence and also has been talking publicly about a significant subject? Perhaps you can make their thoughts on it the lead in to a conversation between you and your child.
Send them a link.
Text your child a link to a place online where a vital topic is being discussed. Ask them to read it when they have time and then, later on, open a conversation by asking them what they thought about what they read.
Pray and prepare.
The most important aspect of engaging our children in important conversations is to prepare beforehand by praying. Ask the Lord to give you the right words to say. Ask him to make you a good listener, not jumping to conclusions or criticizing your child but gently and strategically steering the conversation in a way that points them to truth. Prepare by being up on the facts about the issue, whether it is something happening in culture or something happening in your child’s life. Pray for wisdom and direction. And ask God to make it clear to your child during your conversation with them how very much you love them and care for them.
Point them to scripture.
Always make it your aim is to point your child back to scripture at the end of your conversation. Not in a finger pointing or preachy way. Rather remind them that the answers to all of life’s questions are found within the pages of the Bible. If there is a verse or passage you find relevant, mention it to them. Or, encourage them to go on their own search for answers by using an online resource such as BibleGateway.com Here they can type in their own words to search for relevant verses that may speak to the situation at hand. Modeling for them the habit of consulting God’s word about various matters—whether minuscule or monumental—is crucial. It can help them to develop this practice in their own life which will help them as they navigate situations in the future.
If we are prayerful, purposeful, and prepared, we can know the joy of engaging in thoughtful and helpful conversations with our kids that will be beneficial to them now and will also impact them in the future.
Karen Ehman is a New York Times bestselling author, a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker, and a writer for Encouragement for Today, an online devotional that reaches over four million women daily. Married to her college sweetheart, Todd, and the mother of three, she lives with her family in Michigan.