The last month has been a whirlwind in my home, and quite frankly, it isn’t going to calm down any time soon. Rather than have our mostly peaceful summer dwindle to a quiet close, we instead wrapped up summer vacation with my four day trip to the BlogHer Conference in NYC followed almost immediately by a three day family trip to Pennsylvania, writing a contract on a new home and having it accepted, flying with the family to spend four day in Texas, and returning only to find ourselves in the middle of home inspections and back to school preparation.
Today Emma started first grade. As I tucked her in last night we talked about riding the bus, making new friends, packing to move, painting her new room…so many big things on the mind of a little girl. In times of stress, many children turn inward, unsure of what to say, uncertain of which questions to ask.
There are, however, ways to help children feel comfortable opening up about their thoughts and concerns.
- Play a game – The best way to find a window into the mind of my four year old son is to pull out the board game Sorry. While he’s deciding the most strategic way to split seven, I can find out that he’s looking forward to having a larger bedroom soon, but that he’s concerned about leaving his old paint behind. While I’m sending his pawn back to start, I’m able to slide in the fact that we can paint his new room to look exactly the same as his current room. When kids are absorbed in a task, be it a board game, lining up their race cars, or dressing their Barbies, their defenses are down. What a great excuse to spend some time playing with your children!
- Find a quiet time and place – Two nights ago my daughter couldn’t fall asleep. I joined her and about thirty stuffed animals in her tiny bed, closed my eyes, and listened as she told me an elaborate story about a little girl with super powers and an evil queen. When she was finished she announced that that was simply chapter 1, but that I would have to wait for the remaining chapters. And then she talked to me about school, about packing, about moving. We sat in the near dark in a quiet room in a quiet house and shared a wonderful time together.
- Grab them on the go – From home to school, from choir practice to home, on the way home from Girl Scouts – these are the moments when the kids are staring out the window, mom is focused on the road, and the difficult questions can slide into those little spaces when it appears that one is not paying attention to the other.
- Share your own concerns – Sometimes all that children need to be able to open up is to first have their fears and concerns validated. It’s amazing what happens when they hear me say, “I’m really going to miss our big back yard, but I’m so happy that we’re going to have tons more room inside the house to play.” Suddenly they feel comfortable sharing their own concerns, what they will miss, but their joy and excitement as well.
- Encourage siblings to chat – I personally love to sit near the room where my children are playing happily together – in those rare moments when they are, in fact, playing happily together – and just eavesdrop. Without fail, they intermingle telling and eye-opening thoughts with playing pretend and taking turn. Even at just four and six years of age, they speak to each other with an honesty that isn’t always there in our conversations. The little gem I overhear are parenting treasures.
What do you do when you want your kids to open up to you?