Tips for talking to your kids
The key to effective communicating is being a good listener. And with kids, it's important to make the time to listen to them. Especially when they're ready to talk. Responding with "just a minute" or "not right now" only discourages them from opening up to you. So, when they want to talk, try to drop what you're doing and devote your full attention to what your kids are saying.
||ask open-ended questions that encourage conversation, such as "What do you think about that?", "What was the coolest thing you learned at school today?", "What was the most fun part of your day?" etc.;
||avoid questions that kids can answer with a simple yes or no;
||make it clear they are listening and trying to understand their child's point of view;
||repeat what they think their child has just said;
||acknowledge their child's feelings. For instance, they might say, "I understand it's not easy for you to talk to me about this. I really appreciate that you did it anyway and I'm always willing to listen to you.";
||don't forget about body language: nodding your head and making eye contact to reinforce that you are actively listening.
Responses that show you're listening and help encourage conversation
· "Sounds like you're saying … "
· "Do you mean that …?"
· "When that happens to me, I feel like ... Is it like that for you, too?"
· "I don't quite understand what you're saying. What do you mean?"
What to say
You've listened and now you want to try to get the conversation going. Perhaps most important is finding your own words, times and places that are comfortable for you to talk.
Establishing regular "together time" with your child does a lot to encourage talking. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Just taking a walk, going out for ice cream or in the car when it's just the two of you - are all great opportunities to listen (see Teachable Moments). Remember, if your child isn't in the habit of opening up with you, don't force it. Be patient.
One on one
If you have more than one child, try to talk to each one separately, even when it's about the same topic. Children of varied ages are often at different developmental levels and need different information, have different sensitivities and require different vocabularies. Older children will often dominate the discussion, which may prevent the younger ones from speaking up.
Don't leave your kids guessing. Tell them very clearly that you don't want them drinking alcohol. Setting a firm no-drinking rule will help your child deal with peer and other pressures to drink. Here are some examples of rules that parenting experts recommend:
||"If you're at a party and see that drugs or alcohol are being used, the rule is to leave that party. Call me and I'll come and get you."
||"I've been thinking lately that I've never actually told you this: I don't want you to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana or try other illegal drugs."
||"I love you and I want the best for you, so I don't want you drinking."
||"The rule in our house is that kids don't drink."
Then you talk.
Lines kids can use
Sometimes parents need to provide kids with the appropriate responses and language to help them avoid risky situations. This also empowers your kids to think for themselves. Ask them what they would say or do in risky situations. Here's what your child can tell someone who offers them alcohol:
· "No, thanks. It's not for me."
· "Why would I want to mess up a good thing? I'm cool the way I am."
· "You're kidding, right? Why would I do something so dumb?"
· "No way, man. Drinking is stupid."
· "Can't do it. Gotta get home."
· "I can't drink. I have a big test tomorrow."
· "I tried drinking and I threw up."
· "That's illegal. I don't want to get in trouble."
· "I have a big game tomorrow."
· "I could get kicked off the team if anyone found out."
Act it out
Role-playing potentially sticky situations with your kids can be very helpful. Chances are, if they've had a dry run with you and gone through the conversation, they'll feel better prepared to do it again in real-life situations.
Adapted with permission from Keeping Your Kids Drug-Free, a how-to guide for parents and caregivers, National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.