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The last month has been full of deep conversation with my oldest. And my 2-year old is constantly narrating the stories going on in his head. Thankfully my kiddos are comfortable asking the questions that pop into their minds. Most of the time we can talk about pretty much anything.

But sometimes, when my kids know what they’ve done is wrong or they feel embarrassed about something, they clam up. Or they’ll declare they don’t know how to explain what they’re feeling and thinking.

Here are some ways to foster open communication, both in general, and when our kiddos clam up.

Welcome All Topics

If our kids ask a question, we answer it. We don’t tell them they’re too young to know about it or that it’s too complex for them to understand. We answer their questions in developmentally appropriate ways so they know they can always, always, always come to us about anything. That said, you may need to wait to answer a question about certain topics until you’re out of earshot of your very prone to repeat everything 2-year old. Not that I have personal experience with this or anything…

Take the Pressure Off

One afternoon when we were driving home from some classes my daughter attends, I asked her how her day had been. She started to tell me about a tough situation she had dealt with and I instinctively moved my rearview mirror so I could look back at her. When I did that, she immediately covered her eyes and stopped talking. So I moved the mirror back to its proper position and she continued her story. Sometimes it’s easier for our kiddos to talk about things if they don’t have to look right at us. Or they’re a bit distracted with another activity. Or if we seem distracted. Try talking to your child in the car or while you’re folding laundry or while he’s perfecting his somersault technique.

Ask Open Ended Questions

Yes or no questions will get you yes or no answers. Open ended questions allow our kids to share whatever is on their minds.

Let Them Talk

This seems obvious, but it’s so easy for us as adults to talk and instruct more than we ask questions and listen. Sometimes the best way to foster open communication is for us to keep our mouths shut. Or when we do talk to say, “Tell me more about that….”

Listen Well

Another obvious one that can be so difficult when your child’s story has gotten so convoluted it’s no longer making any sense. But when we really listen and meaningfully interact with our kids stories and anecdotes and the one joke they know, they’ll know that we’re going to go listen and meaningfully interact with them about whatever they bring to us.

Change the Medium

Whenever my art-loving daughter clams up, I ask her if she’s willing to draw me a picture instead. She’s never refused. And when she’s done we can talk through what she’s drawn. If your kiddo is having a hard time expressing herself, try asking her to put on a play about it or dance about it or paint you a picture.

Model Healthy Communication

Let the kids listen in as you and your spouse talk about your day with more than one word answers. Let them hear you (kindly) argue a point back and forth with a friend. Show them it’s possible to deal with hard topics and for everyone to stay calm and open and friendly. What they hear, they will do.

How do you foster open communication with your young kids?