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5/9/22 blog post

how to start conversations with kids (and keep them going!)

answering your questions about getting your kids to talk with you

Getting kids to open up can be hard.  

They may turn to peers instead of us or keep their feelings to themselves. As a parent, caregiver or educator, you want to know what is going on so you can help if needed. Even when everything is going well, establishing the habit of starting conversations builds a strong foundation of communication. Especially, if you need to talk about more complicated things in the future. And practicing this habit builds your confidence to have these difficult conversations, too.  

Getting Started  

  • Timing is key. Difficult conversations are more likely to feel successful when everyone is calm.  
    • Ask permission to start the conversation and if your child is not ready, ask them when a good time would be.  
    •  Make sure you’re in a private area with few distractions, so children are more likely to focus on the conversation and share what’s in their head, and they can see that you are completely present.  
  • Sharing IS caring. Sharing your own thoughts and feelings and how you cope with them helps children learn that emotions are normal and manageable. Remember, kids learn by watching us. 
  • Asking questions. Asking “yes or no” questions will result in just that: one-word answers. When you ask open-ended questions, your child will learn to share — and get more comfortable sharing — more information on all kinds of topics in addition to their emotions or behaviors.  

But what if they don’t want to talk?  

We know that sometimes kids don’t want to talk – or they aren’t ready. And that’s OK! Let them know that you care, and you are interested, and ask when a better time would be. When that time arrives, try again! Children who feel some control or choice are more likely to engage.  

Keeping the Conversation Going  

Now that they’re talking, you may wonder, “What do I say? How do I react?”  

These are important questions because:  

  1. We want to keep them talking and 
  2. We want to create an environment where they will know they can keep coming back with any future problems or worries. 

Here are tips on how to keep them talking:  

  • Use body language that reflects openness and interest, like nodding and eye contact.  
  • Limit your questions; pause and let them guide the conversation. If the conversation gets stuck, you can try questions or statements such as “Tell me more about that...”  
  • Focus on what they are telling you instead of what you want to say next. Then repeat back what you just heard your child say (called reflective listening). This allows your child to know you are truly listening, to clarify if that is incorrect, and to continue adding to the conversation without you having to ask questions.  
  • Praise can help them feel good about sharing and then they are more likely to do it again in the future. Say things like, “Thank you. That had to be hard to tell me, but you still did it” or simply “That was brave of you to share, thank you.”  
  • Normalize emotions and do not judge or dismiss what your child is sharing. You can talk about situations in which you have felt similarly or discuss role models who have gone through difficult situations. Statements such as “anyone in your situation would feel that way too...” can be confirming and relieving for children to hear.  
  • For difficult conversations, strong emotions may happen. Give yourself or your child a break, if neededC 

looking for ideas for conversation starters? request a free pack of cards!

You can start today by downloading a PDF version of our conversation starter cards. These cards can help you create the habit of talking about feelings. 

If you're ready to start the conversation at the dinner table, or in the car while on the go, request a free pack of our conversation starter cards. This fun deck of cards contains more than a dozen icebreaker topics to get the conversation going.  Request now through the month of May and we'll mail them to you for free!

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