If you’ve lamented the loss of real conversation in your life, you wouldn’t be alone. Sherry Turkle, MIT communications professor and noted author, reminds us: “The world is more talkative now, but it’s at the expense of real conversation.”
Cultivating real conversations within your family is essential for everyone’s happiness and for your children’s development. Some studies show young adults attending college today are 40 percent less empathetic than the generations before. Researchers blame the time spent communicating online rather than face-to-face as the cause for an inability to evaluate facial expressions to detect another person’s emotions.
Conversations between kids and their parents is critical for development of language skills, emotional intelligence, self-esteem and the ability to manage conflict. Research shows a child’s well-being is directly related to how often they talk with their parents about meaningful topics. Having real conversations leads to better outcomes for kids of all ages and stages, from baby through teenager-hood and on to adulthood where they’ll use those skills to navigate their personal and work relationships.
Daily, meaningful conversations with your family doesn’t cost any money and it’s time well-spent. Focus on distraction-free discussions. Take advantage of your commute, pre-bedtime or a family walk to ensure you are talking with, and more importantly listening to, your child.
Also, general questions, such as, “How was school?” won’t be that effective. It’s important to ask targeted questions to elicit specific information. “What was the best part of your day?” or “What was the most unexpected thing that happened today?” gives kids a specific question to answer. Asking them for their opinions and input on your own life or decisions makes them feel respected, as well.
The most essential element to a good conversation is being an active listener. By incorporating active listening techniques, you can model good conversation for your child while also engaging in a better talk with them. Here’s how:
- Give your undivided attention. Put down devices or other distractions when talking with your family. This is why going for a walk, talking at bedtime or having discussions while in the car can be really beneficial–they’re less likely to be interrupted. And if you are at home with your phone within reach, put it facedown and focus on the conversation.
- Stop talking. We all have the desire to interrupt when someone’s talking, especially when we’re speaking with our kids, but resist the temptation. Give the other person plenty of time to express his or her thoughts before sharing your own.
- Sit through silence. Especially in a world where background noise seems constant, it can feel hard to sit through silence. But children (and some adults) need time to formulate their thoughts. Waiting in silence may feel uncomfortable, but for kids especially, it creates space to raise challenging topics.
- Resist solutions. It can feel nearly impossible to hold back giving unsolicited advice. When someone shares a personal story or challenge with you, however, wait for him or her to ask for input before you offer it. Children, especially, can benefit because it can often lead to them solving the situation on their own as they have the time and space to express their own feelings.
- Commiserate and validate: Verbally acknowledging another person’s feelings shows that you accept his or her emotions and behaviors, and makes him or her feel valued. This can lead to a deeper connection.
For more ideas on having deeper conversations with your family, check out my new book 52 Small Changes for the Family.