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5 ways to get your child to open up

Ever find it difficult to get your child talking? You may often be met with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘nothing’ or a shrug of the shoulders when you try to initiate a conversation or encourage them to open up. It can be all too easy to accept these responses as a sign your child doesn’t want to talk, when in fact they might just need the right prompts and responses.

Here are 5 things to try:

1. Have I ever told you about the time….?

In those moments when your child is clearly stewing about something that has happened, yet refuses to open up about how they feel, it can sometimes be effective to step in with ‘Have I ever told you about the time…..’. Let’s say for example they are feeling hurt and upset at not being invited to party many of their friends are going to, if we ask them outright ‘How are you feeling?’ this can often feel too direct and difficult. Instead, we can offer our own insight by sharing a time when we have been through something similar. Through sharing our own vulnerability, we can connect with our child more effectively and encourage them to open up with how they are feeling.

2. Don’t ask ‘How was your day?’

How many times have you asked this question and got the response ‘fine’ or when you ask what did you do at school? - ‘nothing’. Try and mix up the questions you ask such as ‘What made you laugh today?’, ‘What was something surprising about your day?’, ‘What did you do that you feel good about?’. These types of questions often induce a much more open and insightful discussion.

3. Talk during an activity or journey

For some children, direct conversation can be hard especially when it’s about something they find hard to talk about. Talking during a walk or a car journey can be much less intense as less eye contact is required. This same principle applies during any form of activity; crafts, lego, baking, gardening etc. For a child it can feel a safe space to open up because the focus isn’t just on them it’s also on the activity being done. Sitting side by side rather than opposite each other can also help.

4. Hold back from giving advice

This one might feel counterintuitive but when your child does open up to you, try to hold back with advice and just listen. What they often need (and what will make them more likely to open up again in the future) is your attention, understanding and validation. We can so easily pass judgement ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it’, ‘You’ll be fine’, ‘You shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place’ when it’s much more helpful to listen to how your child is feeling and reflect back to them what you hear. If you sense they are ready and are seeking your advice, try ‘Shall we talk about what ideas you might have to solve this problem?’

5. Find other ways to communicate

If your child finds it particularly hard to open up or let you know when they need to talk, establish others means of communication. A ‘family post box’ works well; all members of the family can post notes inside the box (which is checked by a parent). These can be special notes of kindness or letters but more importantly your child might write a short note letting you know that something has happened or they want to speak later on at bed time. This requires everyone knowing how to use the post box and of course checking it regularly!

Louise’s recent IGTV on this topic can be found here.

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