As a facilitator for a Parenting class, a common complaint I get is how kids don’t talk to their parents. How many times have we waited for half an hour in the pick-up line, waiting for our children—only to be greeted with grunts and “fine” when we ask how their day was? I too found myself in this scenario a few years ago when a therapist friend suggested a game that revolutionized our family conversation on the drive home from school every day.
The Therapist suggested to ask the children to share thebest and worst parts of their day. I would initiate the conversation by sharing the best and worst part of my own day and then encourage each child to share theirs. The first few times we played the game, I was met with “I don’t know” or “I didn’t really have a best part”. I would then offer suggestions such as “how was lunch” or “what did you do for recess” - these were most likely the most fun aspects of their school day. It was a slow start, but consistency paid off and within a month the boys were fighting over who got to go first when they got in the car!
There are rules to the game. First, I felt like it was important to honor the boy's differences. I have one super extrovert and one that is less extroverted. On the days when my less extrovert little didn’t want to share, I allowed him to have abreak on the condition that he shared the following day. The next day, he was required to share even if he didn’t really feel like it.
Secondly, I wanted to handle any issues that came up in a conversational way, rather than issuing consequences. This may not always be possible depending on the severity of the issue, but I reminded myself that these are things I wouldn’t know if the child wasn't talking to me. This should be a safe space for the kids to share. If they fear consequences, they may be less likely to be open and share to the degree we would like.
Our family has had issues come to light during these conversations. I didn’t ignore the issues; I simply used the time as a coaching opportunity. For example, if my child described a scenario in which he had been rude to another student or a teacher, I would ask things like “what did you mean by that statement?”, “how do you feel about how you handled that?", "do you feel like there might have been another way to handle that?”. These types of discussions were extremely successful in building trust and working through problem solving.
Problem solving was something I really wanted to work on with the boys, so I was pleased with the way these discussions opened the door for me to teach those skills. It has been 4 years since we started playing this game. We don’t play it regularly because it has served its purpose and the boys are usually both little buzzing bees when they get in the car, excited to tell me all about their day. If we are having a day where conversation is lagging a bit, we may pull it out to see if we can get things going.
My then 8-year-old is almost 13. As children become teenagers, they withdraw a bit, and this is part of their normal development. I was concerned with the degree to which he would withdraw, but if our conversation Saturday morning was any indication –I think we’re going to be fine. My almost 13-year-old sat on the kitchen floor loading water bottles into the pantry and said, “Are you ready for me to tell you about what happened at Youth last night?”- This is my less extroverted little. His brother had been on a sugar rush the night before, chattering away so he had not been able to share about his event. My heart smiled, “Yes son, please tell me about youth”.