Has this ever happened to you? You’ve created space, time, and margin for an important conversation with your child, but he has exactly zero interest in talking to you. His answers revolve around nonverbal shrugs and the occasional one syllable. He’s not having it. You try to engage, you probe while acting casual, but it’s all like pulling teeth. Then, though, while you’re on the phone with someone else, he interrupts with important things to say. Or you’re in the bathroom for some peace and quiet and a little business of your own, and he’s knocking on the door with homework questions. Or, the magic hour in our house: after bedtime. Nothing turns my kids into transparent, chatty philosophers than their own bedtime curfew. Talk, talk, talk.
Not every moment is conducive to conversation on their terms. But when your kids want to talk, take the bait. Whenever it is at all possible, sign up immediately. Dive right in. Those windows close fast and furious, and we need to listen as fast as we can. It can be tempting to feel like your child is wasting your time with the distractions of something that seems trivial to you, when you’re feeling the pressure to get dinner on the table, finish the grocery list, shoot off one more email, or pay the bills. But spontaneous conversations are a pure gift wrapped in a fleeting package.
Spontaneous conversations fill your child’s emotional bank. Anytime you embrace the opportunity and take the time to listen, you’re showing your child a positive experience with communication. This strengthens your relationship as your child remembers your empathy, care, approval, delight, and response to what matters to him. Engage the conversation, and make a deposit in his Love Bank.
Spontaneous conversations keep your friendship above water. If, by and large, most of your conversations with your child are positive, this will carry you through the stormy bad days of disagreements. Your daughter may be mad at you, but she will be more motivated to extend the olive branch and restore the peace if she can remember those positive moments you’ve shared together.
Spontaneous conversations strengthen connections. We all want our children to know we are there for them, in their corner, on their team. These conversations remind them that they are protected, that they have a safety net. Our children need our input, though they think their peers know all there is to know. Show your child he can talk to you, you will listen, and you won’t overreact (so practice your straight face in the bathroom mirror).
Spontaneous conversations pave the way for communication in a crisis. If your child knows she can approach you with smaller things, then you’ve laid the groundwork for her to feel confident to talk to you when she’s hurting. We want our children to look to us when they’re in danger, so this means we need to pave the way by being consistent and approachable when the sun is shining in a cloudless sky.
Spontaneous conversations are a gift to both of you. As you listen, you’re showing your child that she matters, her stories matter, her time matters. As she talks, you’re able to get the scoop on her daily life, what interests and troubles her. Together, you can know each other better, delight in each other’s company, and feel safer in each other’s presence.
In her book, Dial Down the Drama: Reducing Conflict and Reconnecting with your Teenage Daughter, Colleen O’Grady offers a manual for mothers to rebuild their connection with their daughters. The above ideas stem from her chapter entitled How to Like Your Daughter Again. O’Grady talks in depth about the spontaneous conversation, and she offers these takeaway suggestions for how to hold onto one of those ever-fleeting spontaneous conversations with your daughter:
- Be open to interruptions. Stop what you’re doing and spend time with her when she initiates a conversation.
- Get curious about her world.
- Let her direct the conversation. Don’t take the lead.
- Don’t ask too many questions.
- Keep the conversation light. This is not the time to lecture. Keep it positive.
- Be responsive. Laugh if she is funny. Validate her feelings.
- Let her know you are on her side.
- Give her prompts that indicate you are listening, like “Wow” and “Really?”
- Relax and enjoy the interaction.
- Create spontaneous conversations by getting your daughter out of the house. Take her to Starbucks after school, or go to her favorite lunch place.
Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.