She walks through the door head down, tears in her eyes. I know she's had a rough day. Yet, when I ask the question, "What's wrong?" I get a muttered "Nothing." As she heads to her room to do homework, I stare after her, wondering "How can I get her to talk to me?"
Does that scenariio sound familiar? It has played out in my home more times than I can count. There's little more frustrating for a parent than knowing there's something bothering your child but being unable to get to the root of the problem.
Getting our children to talk to us can be difficult. Both my girls can talk my ear off, but often they choose to clam up when it comes to telling me about their days. They give one-word answers or tell me only half the story. I have found, however, that there are things I can do to make them more willing to talk with me. Here's what works in our house.
Create a time to listen. Set aside a time in your day that's specifically for talking with your kids. Do whatever works best for you. It can be breakfast or bedtime or any time in between. In our house, when 3 p.m. rolls around, I set aside whatever I'm doing, set out a snack and sit on the front porch to wait for my middle schooler to get home. By the time she walks up the driveway, I'm ready to listen to her. We have 10 minutes before her sister gets home in which she gets my undivided attention.
Be ready to listen. Too often, the temptation is to solve our kids' problems. But what they really need is for us to listen to them without judgment and without interruption. When our kids know we are willing to listen, they're more likely to talk. Too often, we're ready to jump in with suggestions and help before we really listen to what our kids have to say. Proverbs 18:13 says "To answer before listening—that is folly and shame." We want to be able to offer what our kids need, whether its comfort or advice, and we can't do that well if we don't listen to what they have to say.
Ask questions. Some kids will spill everything that's in their hearts with little prompting from you. But some kids need to be encouraged to talk. I've found that asking my older daughter general questions like, "How was your day?" works just fine, but with my younger daughter, that question results in a one-word answer. With her, I usually ask very specific questions like "What did you do in math? Who did you sit with at lunch? What funny thing happened today? What are you reading in class?" Those questions generally lead her to tell me more about what went on in her day and will lead to the things that are on her heart.
Don't expect to hear everything. Some kids simply won't share things that are bothering them until they are ready. No amount of questioning or being ready to listen will change that. Unless it's a situation where you believe they are in danger of some kind of harm, let your child know you are available to listen, then leave it be. Generally, kids will come talk to us when they are ready.
Don't try to fix everything. Our kids need our love. They need our advice. They need our comfort. What they don't need is for us to solve all their problems. When your child has a problem, help them work it through. Give suggestions, but don't jump in and solve it. Show them how to reach their own solution. This gives them confidence to solve their own problems and also makes you a valuable resource for your child.
Listening to our kids may be the most important thing we can do to help them grow spiritually and emotionally. Encouraging them to talk with us means that we create time to listen to them and that we don't try to solve all their problems. Today, spend some time simply listening to the heart of your child.