Talking With Our Children

When you’re out and about, try this little experiment: listen to parents talking to their kids.

In the grocery store, at the playground, on the train into the city  – anywhere I overhear conversations between a parent and child, I notice primarily 2 different types of talking between them.

One type of talking goes something like this:

Grocery store:

Parent:  Put that back.   I said “NO!”                                                                                                                 Hang onto the cart.                                                                                                                                 Stand right here and don’t move until I pick out something for dinner.

Play Ground:

Parent:  Don’t run in front of the swings.   Be careful.

On the train:

Parent:   Sit still.  Look out the window.                                                                                                            Don’t bother me; I’m on my phone.

The other kind of talking goes something like this:

Grocery store

Parent:   Let’s pick out some fruit because it’s so good for us                                                                         Look at all these different vegetables. Do you see your favorite one here?

Play Ground: 

Parent:  It’s so exciting to be here at the playground, and I’m                                                                    wondering if you can tell me the most important safety rule for the swings?

On the train:

Parent:  Let’s look out the window and see who sees the entrance to the underground                      first.                                                                                                                                                             I wonder who lives in all these houses.

It’s pretty easy to see the major difference between the two sets of examples. When we engage our children in conversation, we’re doing so very much more than talking. We’re modeling how to have a conversation and how to listen. When we invite our children to participate with us in conversation, we’re telling them that they’re important people to us. When we ask questions, we’re teaching them about the world around us and encouraging them to be curious. Through conversation, we’re showing them that we like spending time with them. Throughout these conversations, we’re getting to know each of our children on an individual basis, thus on a deeper level. The knowledge and understanding we gain from this process enables us to become a better parent to each individual child.

And in addition to all of the above benefits, research is long and strong in showing that children whose parents talk with them instead of at them, do much better in school than those whose parents spend most of their talking time giving orders or telling their children to stop talking.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, yes, this is fine for littles, but I have  teenagers, and they won’t talk.” Try the same process anyway – instead of giving orders, ask questions that encourage engagement.

Let’s consider the difference between the following two statements said to a teen or preteen:

“Be sure to get your homework done before you start playing your games, and don’t forget, your job this week is setting the table for dinner.”


“Because your job this week is setting the table for dinner, when do you want to tackle your homework?

With the first statement, which consists of two orders, what can your teen say other than nothing or an angry, “Ya, Ya,” or even “Just get off my case.”

With the second statement, which invites her to respond and to have the freedom of choosing when to do her homework, you have engaged her in a possible conversation.

P.S.  If she doesn’t respond the way you would wish her to, that’s okay because teaching our children to become responsible is a process, and you’ll continue with this process as you put her feelings into words or paraphrase her words, as appropriate (discussed and shown in Blog # 11 “Listening to our Kids – Real Listening….”

I invite you to listen to yourself as you talk with your children; do you find yourself talking at them, or are you inviting them to have a conversation with you?

copyright Judy Harmon Holmes 2018


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