Parents should start when their kids are young to set aside special times and places for sharing conversations. Doing so now establishes a positive pattern they can turn to even as adults when seeking guidance. Below are some age-appropriate suggestions for enhancing one-on-one time with your child.
Ages 4 to 9
Younger children tend to be bursting with questions about nearly everything, giving parents many opportunities to expand their conversations into meaningful discussions. Short drives to and from school or activities can also be used as touchstone moments to check in on the new experiences your child is facing. What are their thoughts about their new soccer coach? Are they excited to be playing shortstop this year on the softball team?
The younger the child, the more prone they may be to couch any concerns they may have in fantasy stories and wild tales. This allows them to use their imagination and they shouldn’t be scolded for tale-telling. Rather, parents can let their offspring know that they are engaging in make believe by joining in or interjecting, “Wouldn’t that be something!” at appropriate points.
Sometimes younger children can get overwhelmed by extended or intense conversations that can almost become interrogations. Flip the script and get down on the floor with them for some play activity that includes role-playing and pretend. Listen to the ways they communicate with their own dolls or stuffed animals for clues to what may be troubling them in their own lives.
Ages 10 to 13
The tween and early teen years can really tax the communications between parents and children. You are likely painfully aware that your kids no longer believe you hung the moon, but letting kids see their own parents’ vulnerabilities doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can make you much more relatable to a child struggling with adolescence.
Kids may be more comfortable opening up with their parents during a shared activity. It can be as simple as preparing a batch of homemade cookies together or something more elaborate, like a rock-climbing event or a day spent hiking a nature trail. Letting the conversation ebb and flow naturally allows kids to let their guards down and share their thoughts on a variety of topics without the pressure of a more structured conversational setting.
Some kids may clam up during discussions. Offer a communications alternative. Introduce them to journaling by starting a shared memo book to leave each other notes and questions in a non-threatening setting.
Ages 14 to 18
This age group is very focused on themselves and the ways they relate to and rank with their peers. They are beginning to grapple with the intricacies of relationships with romantic partners, and these relationships can consume their time. Parents may have to really struggle to make sure there are still opportunities to share conversations.
Inviting your teen to a spa day or a special event like an NFL game (Go Packers!) is a positive way to open the lines of communication with them. Talking about times when you were a teen and your own mom or dad took you to the big game or when you and your dad or mom shared a daytrip to the outlet malls is a good start.
Young Adulthood and Beyond
Parents who have done a good job fostering healthy communication skills in their kids when they were younger can be rewarded now with frequent conversations with their college-age kids as they navigate the shoals of adulthood. They may want to discuss your opinions on the current political climate or share their worries over the future of the world for their, and subsequent, generations. They may want to know about their family background in greater detail, delving into cultural traditions and genealogy. Learning to relate to your children as the adults they are now can be a rich and rewarding experience for all.