How many parents long for and would thoroughly enjoy a great conversation with children? This is especially true with parents of teenagers. Gone are the days your children would verbally unpack their entire day with great excitement and enthusiasm. Now the typical parent-child conversation is restricted to one syllable words at best; often we only get grunts, moans, and the occasional slight head nod. Well, I feel your pain and unfortunately I don’t have an answer as to how we get them talking more. However, I do have some suggestions that can ensure that you are prepared to listen when their verbal flood gates do open.
I recently had such a flood gate opening event with our daughter. Looking back on this event, I could have easily missed it. It was early one Saturday morning, she and I were on our way to a tennis tournament. The tournament was local, so only she and I were in the vehicle. We went early to ensure that she had sufficient time for warm up. It was as we were pulling out of our subdivision that Ensley decided to open her verbal flood gates. I don’t recall exactly how it started, but it was something like – “Dad, do you know what I did this week?” With my attention already divided between driving and listening to a podcast via the car radio, I offered up the obligatory “what”? It was two or three sentences into her very thorough explanation of her week that I realized… Whoa, wait a minute. She’s really talking with me! Upon this revelation, I interrupted her for just a second to turn off the podcast, turn down the radio, and apologetically ask her to start again. From there, we thoroughly enjoyed a great conversation for the remainder of our commute to the tennis courts. I am so very glad I didn’t miss this opportunity with our daughter.
It happens so infrequently and often starts so subtly that we miss or even shut down these conversations with our teenager. I’d like to use some of the details of our conversation on the way to the tennis courts to share 6 ways that you can truly listen to and enjoy a great conversation with your teenager.
Diligently watch for the flood gates to open
As I’ve mentioned, the verbal flood gates of a teenager don’t open very often. Therefore, it is critical that we recognize when they open. You must be very diligent to watch for the verbal flood gate opening. Sometimes it opens rather slowly and can easily be closed by a negative response or lack of authentic response. It was very early on a Saturday morning, I was driving, I was listening intently to a favorite podcast, and Ensley was showing little evidence that she was actually awake. Given all these factors, I could have easily missed or even shut down this great conversation with a negative response or lack of authentic response.
Stop everything else
An authentic response to the opening of the verbal flood gates requires undivided attention (or as close to undivided as possible). Ensley and I were driving at the time of the opening, so clearly I had to apply sufficient attention to safe driving. However, I was very purposeful to stop the podcast that was playing over my radio. I listen to several podcasts each week while in my vehicle. Though I had to interrupt her mid sentence and apologize, Ensley knew she had my full attention when I stopped the playing podcast.
Make eye contact
Eye contact is the single best method to demonstrate undivided attention. Additional body language such as stooping to their level or sitting next to them communicates authentic interest in what your teenager is sharing. In our case, I had to resort to the few opportunities while sitting a red lights to make eye contact with Ensley. If I recall correctly, I did get honked at from a lady behind me at one red light – so be it, it was worth it.
Retell their story
As the conversation progresses, take opportunities to retell the details that your child has shared. This again, communicates a real interest in your child. If you retell the details, your teenager clearly know that you are truly listening. Additionally, retelling the details will help you to remember the conversation later. Remember this doesn’t happen often, so you will want to treasure and remember the details of the rare occasions.
Again, by asking questions you are showing genuine interest in the conversation. Additionally, asking questions will continue the conversation. When Ensley opened her verbal flood gates, she had a particular event on a particular day of that week. Through questions, I was able to prolong the conversation to get a recap of her full week. Now one note of precaution on asking questions, ensure that your questions do not become a form of interrogation. Your questions need to communicate a genuine interest in your child.
Tell them how much you enjoyed the conversation
Finally, don’t assume that your teenager understand how much you have enjoyed your great conversation. You know that your teenager is clueless about most of real life, this is no exception. Don’t let the conversation end without your teenager hearing just how important such conversations are to you. Be sure to let them know how proud you are of them for sharing. Be sure to explain the joy the great conversation has brought to your heart. Words of affirmation are likely loosen the latches on the verbal flood gates.
There you have it, 6 ways that you encourage great conversation with your teenager. How do you ensure great communications with your teenagers? Share your thoughts and comments with other readers in the comments below.