Getting Your Kids to (Really) Talk to You

I am in the midst of a new-found Oprah obsession.  Sure I’ve watched her shows in years past, but the last couple of months I have been enthralled.  Yesterday (May 19th) was no exception.  In addition to other guests, she interviewed a brother and sister whose mother had left their family.  Working with them was psychotherapist, M. Gary Neuman.  I have to admit that sometimes when I see therapists on television I hear “blah, blah, blah” (is this what people hear during my media interviews? Hmmm…).  Anyway, Mr. Neuman was great!  In particular, he had one piece of advice that was particularly poignant.  That is (and I’m paraphrasing):

If you really want your kids to talk to you, you have to do more than say ‘Let me know if you want to talk’ or ‘You can come to me if you have any problems.’

He is so right!  So many of us think we are opening the door to our kids’ conversations by making these statements, but in fact it takes much more to actually get them to open up.  Mr. Neuman suggested we actually bring up the topics we want our kids to talk about.  Here are some examples:

  • “Johnny I saw on the news that a lot of kids drink alcohol at after prom parties.  What are your plans after prom?”
  • “Sophie, I don’t know if you and Tucker are sexually intimate, but I thought we could talk about birth control options for girls your age.”
  • “Henry, I remember when I was about to graduate from high school I felt so nervous about college and the changes it would bring.  I wonder if you’ve felt nervous about next year at all?”
  • “Ellie, I was watching American Idol last night and one of the contestants talked about her parents divorce and how it still makes her sad.  I was wondering how our family’s divorce affects you?”

Mr. Neuman went on to note that we, as parents, need to bring these topics up to our kids time and time again.  By doing so we create a safe, accepting environment for them to talk about concerns – big and small.  Brilliant, Mr. Neuman!  Thanks for the reminder that we need to be active participants in communicating with our kids.

Photo by: George Burns/Harpo Studios