How can I encourage discussion with my child?

Good communication is a basic part of successful family life. Parents and children should talk to each other often about a whole range of subjects – school, friends, news events, hobbies, sports, politics, art, humor, science, music, religion, nature. The more children discuss at home, the more they learn about themselves and their world and prepare for adult life. Home is the best place for wide-ranging discussions, since schools often emphasize silence and order, and young peers have only limited information and perspectives. At home, a child can test out his ideas and start to think critically, analytically, and abstractly.

Discussions come more easily for some families than others. Some parents never think of tossing ideas back and forth with their child. Others feel they don’t have time to sit and talk. Children who aren’t used to regular discussions rarely initiate conversations.

Most parents are greatly influenced by their own early experiences. If they grew up in families that valued talking, they speak often with their own children. One father remembers frequent discussions that turned into loud political debates. Although keeping up with his family was a constant challenge, he believes he learned a great deal from those early talks. Another parent has very different memories. Throughout her childhood she had to listen silently to her parents’ opinions. When she entered college, she froze if asked to speak in class. She’d had little experience sharing her ideas.

If you’d like your family to do more talking, set aside time for discussions. In the car, turn off the radio and start a conversation. Watch a little less TV, wake up twenty minutes early for a family breakfast, take an evening walk together, and chat during dinner or over a late-night snack. If there are enough opportunities, you and your child will start talking.

Show your interest by asking him questions: “What did you think of that movie?” “What’s the best thing that happened today?” “What changes would you make at your school?” “If you were given money to help others, what would you do?” Share anecdotes about your day, describe articles from the newspaper, offer stories about your past or your child’s early years, tell jokes. If he’s not used to discussions, let him do a lot of the talking. This will show you value his ideas and will enhance his self-esteem.

Don’t overwhelm him. In your eagerness to share information or insight, you may speak too long or too forcefully. Like most parents, you want to express your beliefs and shape your child’s views. But if he believes you will lecture him, dismiss his words, or start arguing, he’ll avoid family discussions. He’s most likely to listen and respond if conversations are low-key.

It’s important that you make the effort to talk with him. At times it may be difficult to listen to his opinions or focus on his interests. Still, by talking together, you show the value of sharing ideas. From simple family conversations, he’ll discover how to present himself, how to learn from others, and how to see the world from different viewpoints.

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