How to get your children to talk about their feelings
The most important job as a parent is making it astoundingly clear to your children that they can share their heart with you. Your child’s transparency, doesn’t necessarily have to do with the questions you ask, but mostly with how they feel in your presence.
Ask yourself this question - does my child feel safe to share their heart - the good, the bad, and the ugly? Because if they don’t, asking these questions won’t benefit you at all.
If you are always expecting perfection, it will hinder them from opening up, worrying that they will disappoint you. Learn about unhealthy expectations you might be having in this article here.
As parents, we have always had to check ourselves with this. It’s very easy for our good willed discipline to turn to something counter productive that shuts them out and isolates them, instead of being there for them. When your kids allow you to come alongside of them in their journey of victories, struggles, bad choices, good choices, and everything in-between, you will realize that it’s the best place to be.
Not that you should be their pier, but by allowing them to be themselves, you can be more than a parent - you can be a comrade, someone they respect and listen to, as well as see your opinion as something that works, not something they rebel against.
That being said, there will always be rebellion from our children throughout their adolescence—it’s normal and it’s a part of them growing up and learning that they don’t always have the answers. It’s in moments of their rebellion that we can really show them we are listening and we care.
Age is also a huge factor when it comes to how and when they will open up—when they are little, in most cases, children will pour their heart out to you—so listening and being attentive in their younger years will make a huge difference for when they get older.
I don’t know what happened when my son turned six, but I felt like from that point on, getting him to open up about more than sharing simple everyday things was like herding cats. From this I realized, if I wanted to have a deeper relationship with my son, I was going to have to get creative.
My son, who is now eight, is apparently at an age where girls are ridiculous and wonderful all at the same time. How did my son put it the other day? Oh yeah, “girls are creepy but I like them anyway.”
One story he told me after school, was, upon hearing, the most difficult yet to hold in my laughter - definitely a no-go if you ever want your kids to open up to you again.
My mom had picked him up from school, and as he walked through the door after arriving home, I could see that something was off. He hesitantly alluded to the fact that he had a splitting headache, so I implored and to my discovery, the reason for his headache was monumental.
Me - “Did something happen at school that gave you this terrible headache?”
Him - “well, I banged my head against a locker.”
Me - “oh no, how did that happen!?” after thinking it was an accident.
Him - “because I banged it against my locker.”
Me - “so it was on purpose?”
Him - “well, yeah. A girl was walking by so I banged my head on my locker.”
Yeah, because that impresses women.
Now before you judge, try and remember back to what you did to impress a boy or girl. Did it make sense? Nope.
Aside from the fact that his choice was absolutely ridiculous, these moments with him don’t happen often — him opening up on his own free will — so I have to make sure when he does share, he has my full attention and not laughter or ridicule.
Great questions to ask your chid to get them to open up
Now that I’m about to get into some actual application of how you can get your kids to open up, I also want to make note of the the fact that this is based on my own experience of using it with my son. As of now, it has proven to work wonders, but remember that I am just an opinion floating around on the internet.
My methods are derived from being a mom and because I love my kids, I realize that I have to get creative to keep my relationship with them purposeful and healthy.
That being said, this method doesn’t always work. There are days when my son just doesn’t feel like opening up or talking, and guess what…that’s okay! Along with the fact that our kids need to feel safe in transparency, they need to feel safe to say they don’t feel like talking.
When are kids are out and about all day at school, we neglect to realize that they spend most of their awake time with people you as a parent don’t know well - teachers and other kids. Keeping that in mind, for you to know them and know them on a deeper level, is even more vital.
Okay, here we go.
This won’t be a step by step method, but rather a series of questions that will provoke an answer that is more than a yes or no.
Questions Number One
What happened today that was funny?
I always lead with this one because it usually lightens the mood. Obviously there won’t always be a response, but it’s the fact that you’re asking and caring that matters. The more you implement these questions into your everyday interactions with your kids, the more they will try and remember things throughout the day, to come back and tell you.
Asking in a way that is won’t lead to a yes or no answer, is the form that your questions should be in - it’s not assuming, it’s caring - because most children experience at least one thing in their day that was humorous.
When they answer, make sure you’re engaged and you care about the answer. Staring into your iPhone as they answer is not listening.
Question Number Two
What happened today that was hard/difficult for you?
This one is good for if they seem sad or beat down from the day. It doesn’t ask anything specific or assume the worst, but it helps them feel safe to share anything that happened that might have been hard.
If your child is being bullied, you might find out about it with this question. I did. And you would think that a child would share on their own initiative, but children are pretty embarrassed about being bullied. Which brings me to the next question that might aid in knowing how your kids are being treated in your absence - possibly how they are treating others as well.
Question Number Three
Are kids at school being nice to you? Are you being nice to them?
Another question that will enlighten you to what’s going on at school. Not only is it important for your kids to be transparent about whether or not they are being bullied, but also to make sure they aren’t being the bully.
I know it’s pretty easy to think that your kid would NEVER be a bully, but pier pressure is strong, people.
Our kids need direction on what to do if their friends start making bad choices. They need to be educated on the fact that when someone else does something they shouldn’t, doesn’t mean they need to get in on the action.
Modeling that for our kids is the most beneficial, but we also have to make sure they understand what exactly that means by talking it through with them on a case-by-case scenario.
So many times we neglect the fact that our kids need to be shown what’s right and what’s wrong - in social situations, especially. As adults, we neglect the fact that our children don’t have complete understanding of choice and consequence like we do.
And if you don’t want them learning bad habits from their piers, you need to implement it in your conversations—the sooner the better.
Question Number Four
What are you grateful for today?
With these questions also comes ample opportunities to teach your children about gratitude, respect, kindness, and the hardships of life—it’s just doing it by letting them lead the conversation.
Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with my son was before bed, after we pray and thank God for the people and blessings in our life at the moment.
When you make this question more specific to the day, it helps them not repeat themselves, as everyday can be a new experience for gratitude. Understanding what they are grateful for will help them to look at their life through a gratitude lens, which enables them to be content with their surroundings and circumstances.
In a consumerist world, we have to take the initiative in pointing our children to how blessed they are, no-matter what your current situation is. For us as a family, this doesn’t only have to do material blessings - being loved by God, the love of friends and family, and having furry little friends to name a few.
There is always something to be grateful for, and it’s our job to point them to that truth.
Question Number Five
What happened today that was exciting?
Getting to know our kids on a deeper level, has a lot to do with knowing what they are passionate about. I asked my son this and he said that it was exciting when the girls were chasing him.
From that, I can now have knowledge that my son is at the age when he is excited about girls. It may seem so silly to me, but it opens up the conversation for me to ask who the girls were, where they lived, and whether or not I was going to let them continue to chase my precious boy around.
Just kidding - I’m not THAT mom...well, maybe just a little. By the way, if you have a son and you need some advice on what he might need from his mother, check this out. A son’s relationship with his mother is the most important relationship of his life - arguably, even more vital than his relationship with his dad.
You can add words to your questions like…
What happened today that was sad?
…made you happy
and so on. You can really manipulate these sentences however you like, but the main point is that they aren’t questions like…how was your day? Good. So-on and so-forth.