What is: “I dunno.”
Answer: The most common answer to any question I ask my 6-year-old son.
What is: “Yes. No. Yes.”
Answer: The most common answer to any question I ask my 3-year-old daughter.
As you can see, I’ve birthed two very inefficient reporters. Whenever I try to get any information out of either of my kids it’s as though I’m listening to the Watergate tapes. All the good stuff has been cut out and I’m simply left with a shrug, an “I dunno”, or an endless stream of yeses and nos.
In general, I’m okay with that.
Usually, I just surrender and let my kids tell me as much or as little about their day as they like. Sure, I’d prefer to know which kid bit my daughter at pre-school and I’d love it if my son would tell me how many extra lollipops he managed to sneak when I wasn’t looking. But if they don’t want to tell me it’s fine, kids aren’t great at reporting back. And the last thing I want to do is nag.
But this past year when my son started elementary school, I realized I needed to help him get past “I dunno” and start talking more. He had a lot on his mind and I wanted to help him. So I adopted a few homemade strategies and suddenly the conversations started rolling. Now I can barely get him to stop talking!
1. I make sure we have time alone. Even if it’s just 10 extra minutes before bed, I make sure each of my kids has time alone with me without the other family members distracting them or wanting my attention.
2. They know they can tell me anything without getting in trouble. If they’re having a problem with a friend or teacher I still want the kids to know they can tell me anything without repercussions. I try to be consistent so they always feel comfortable talking to me in the future when problems and worries might be bigger.
3. I tell them I will always try to help. I try to be honest, letting my kids know that I might not be able to fix every problem but I can always try. At least they’ll know I have their back even if I can’t make every worry or problem go away.
4. They know grown-ups have worries too. As a way to get my kids to open up, sometimes I talk about things that are on my mind as well. I save my serious worries for a peer, but I try to be open with the kids that everyone worries. Even Mom and Dad. They seem relieved by this every time.
5. I talk about things that worried me when I was their age. Since kids see Mom and Dad as powerful, it’s nice for them to know we had things that were hard and worrisome at their age too. I think it gives them confidence knowing that we worked it out and they will too.
6. I try to give them tools for dealing with their worries. Sometimes I have to consult an expert, but sometimes I can come up with solutions and suggestions for helping them deal with what’s on their minds. They feel relieved getting anxiety out of their heads and in to practical solutions.
If I sensed my kids had serious worries and overwhelming anxiety, I’d consult an expert before trying to solve the problems myself. But on a day-to-day basis, I think it’s nice for us as parents to give our kids a safe haven to talk and provide solutions for worrying. My kids may not want to talk to me as teenagers, but at least by then they’ll know it’s okay to talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be me!