Express Yourself! Getting Kids to Open Up On Their Own Terms

My girls talk. All. The. Time. Especially in the car. Parents, you feel me? Mostly, it’s all sorts of things about school, friends, their Barbies, movies, the normal elementary school stuff. But amidst all that talking, I sometimes wonder how they are doing emotionally in different aspects of their lives when I’m not there to visually see how they react to different situations. My kids aren’t usually talking about their feelings without me doing a little prodding or directly asking. And as they get older, I know this will get even harder. As parents, we’ve made great efforts over the years to establish good communication right from the start, so that when they get older, they will feel like they can come to us with any sort of problem (easier said than done, right?). So what has worked for us so far? Read on…

  • MOM AND ME JOURNAL: Both of my girls have a journal they keep by their nightstand. They are free to write in it whenever they wish. I don’t establish guidelines or time frames as to when they write. For me, the journal is used for more of a communication piece than anything else. Sometimes, the girls will write to tell me they love me, or they write about an event, like a sleepover or birthday party that they loved. I love reading about these special moments. But for me as a parent, it is used for SO MUCH MORE! It is a safe place where they can tell me about something that is bothering them that they otherwise didn’t want to share in person just yet. Some kids, no matter how open and communicative your family is, just do not like to share raw feelings so easily. After they write, they put their journal on my bed pillow. I will ALWAYS write back THAT night, and I will put it back on their dresser in the morning after they go off to school so it is there when they get home. Don’t wait a few days. This sends a signal that their writing is unimportant. If they are sharing a problem, I will offer ideas on how to handle it. I always remind them that I am there to talk when they feel comfortable. They know that I do not share journal information with anyone; that it is a conversation only between the two of us, and dad. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Do not break this trust. Since beginning this journal, my kids have shared so many feelings that they wouldn’t have if it weren’t for their journal outlet, and they almost always want to talk afterwards. The journal acts as a stepping stone. I have found that the journal also gives them relief when they can express their problem, even if they aren’t verbally telling me right away. SIDE NOTE: When I introduced the journal idea, I told them they would be getting a “mom and me” journal. I made a big deal about how special it would be. Because I let them pick out their own at the store on a special trip, they immediately took ownership in it because they were part of the process, and this added to the excitement of it all!
  • QUESTION BOOKS: Before turning out the lights at night, part of our nightly routine is using our “question book” to spark a little conversation. My girls LOVE these! Sometimes I make my own questions on index cards and put them in a baggie for the kids to pull out; other times I use the resources already available on Pinterest! If you search, “questions for kids,” you will get tons of ideas. One of my favorites is this one:
  • EAT DINNER TOGETHER: So simple, yet sometimes so difficult. When I was growing up, we always had dinner as a family every single night. If there were conflicts with a family member’s activity schedule, we waited until everyone was ready. This has carried over into my own family as well, but I must admit, we need to get a little better at it. The girls always eat together, but sometimes my husband and I eat at different times, depending on what the baby’s schedule/mood is looking like that day. We are getting better at timing it all out; it’s a learning curve. I see the value in it so much. Coming together at the dinner table promotes togetherness and a sense of calm after a long day. It’s where you can share your day, or talk about anything…as a family. For some families, eating together might not be possible EVERY day with business travel and so many conflicting schedules. Try to eat together at least a few times a week…you will see the benefits immediately! Want to add a little fun to the dinner table? Add question cards! We have a little box of cards in our centerpiece and on some days, we will pull a card or two and go around the table and ask the question. So fun! You can make your own, or I found these online that we use for dinner time and also road trips: Table Top Questions for Kids

Of course, before any of the above communication ideas can be effective/before your kids will share info with you, you must develop trust and truly show your kids you care about them daily. Make it a habit to say how proud you are of them, and tell them you love them every single day. You can establish some routines that are special and predictable. For example, when my kids leave for the school bus in the morning, I always say, “I love you so much! Do great things today, and always be kind.” We also have a nightly routine that involves blowing a kiss to each other, catching the kiss, and placing it on our hearts. I’ve been doing this since my kids were babies, and my 5th grader still does this ritual every single night with me. She even does it as she’s leaving for school! It really is the little things that matter. There are so many ways you can show you care about your kids’ well-being, and the mistake of giving them “things” to show love isn’t one of them. Kids don’t need lots of “things.” Kids can have all the toys and materialistic things in the world, but what they REALLY need is a loving and caring home environment. Express to your kids how much you care about them and show an invested interest through positive interaction and communication…and in turn they will be better communicators with you!

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