Getting kids to open up

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There are parents who enjoy the infancy and toddler stage of parenting, and then there are parents like me, who prefer the next stage – when the kids are older and more capable of meaningful interaction. Yes, I loved them as babies, and would want to spend every waking moment with them. But now, I finally can “talk” to Jason, 7, and Shannon, 4, and enjoy a good conversation with them.

I really enjoy communicating with my kids, talking to them, finding out what they think and feel, telling them what I think and feel about issues or situations. More often than not, they surprise me with what they say, and I learn from them more than I expect to. Plus, they can be really funny too. Most importantly, I get to understand them better as little people. And while that happens easily now when they are young and chatty, I see how important this habit of getting them to open up will be down the road when they are teenagers.

Over at Modern Parents Messy Kids, Kristin shares about establishing a chatting spot. We don’t have a specific space at home, as we are constantly on the move. So I thought I would share some of my favourite places and ways to get my kids to open up.

1) On the road

I ferry the kids around to and from school every day, so the car journey makes for a perfect place for us to have our chats. Sometimes it is just one kid in the car with me, sometimes both kids are in there. Either way, it can work. We may start talking about things we see along the way, or a neighbour we met along the way, and the conversation may spark off something Jason is curious about, and he starts asking me questions. Once, I was recounting how a pretty girl who bullied Shannon was not being kind, and I casually told Jason he should in future pick a wife not just based on her looks, but her character. It led to him asking me questions like: “How would I know how to choose a good wife?”, “How did you choose papa as your husband?” and more like that. We had a good conversation, I shared some values with him, and even if he remembers bits from our talk, I think it’s good enough.

Both of them hamming it up for the camera in the back seat.

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2) Craft time

Craft time for my kids translates to one-to-one time, and I can’t emphasize how important this undivided attention is to a child. I prefer to do crafts with each of them separately because of their age gap, difference in ability and interests. It works out well because I can either work on a craft alongside them, or do some work while they are working beside me, and give them undivided attention when needed. And because they are alone with me, it is easier to talk about things without interruption from a sibling. It is during this time that Jason shares about his friends, teachers, and what he likes and dislikes about school.

Jason painting a ceramic dog green (his current favourite colour) earlier this year.

talk1 Shannon using finger paints to draw a caterpillar. That was among the last of painting activities done at home. I’ve since decided for my own sanity, to have them paint on our table outside for easier clean up.

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3) Create pockets of time before and after school

Shannon is in full day childcare and Jason is in afternoon school, so I get to spend mornings alone with Jason before he goes to school and I know he thoroughly enjoys having me all to himself. It is also when we have some of our best chats. On days when I’m not as busy at work, I try to make it a point to pick Shannon 30 minutes earlier than usual, so that I can do a grocery run with her (she really enjoys that), or bring her for a light snack where I get to ask her about her day and hear about her friends, teachers and school.

Here she is having a drink with me after school, and being absolutely delighted that I picked her early that day.

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4) Quantity time before quality time

Much has been said about quality time. But as a working mum, I know very well how it is near impossible to have quality time if there isn’t quantity time. ¬†Conversation doesn’t always flow like a tap, or at will. Much depends on the relationship we have built, our moods that day and so on. So holidays we take as a family are especially precious to us, because that is when we get to spend time with the kids, uninterrupted by technology (handphones, computers) and work.

The picture below was taken in 2011 at a resort near Malacca, and the most memorable part of the trip was the journey by train, to and from Singapore. It was one of the rare times we did not drive to Malaysia, and could spend the better part of the journey talking to the kids.

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5) Bed time

I included this as it is one possible time to have chats with the kids, while I’m putting them to bed. But in reality, I would rather they sleep early, so I keep chats to a minimum at night.

Hopefully this provides a launchpad for more chatty ideas!

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2 thoughts on “Getting kids to open up

  1. Our Vintage Life September 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm Reply

    It’s so important to start that “opening up” encouragement when our kids are small. That way, hopefully!, when they’re in the tween and teen years, they’ll still want to share with us. :-)

    • Jane Ng September 29, 2013 at 10:49 pm Reply

      Our Vintage Life: You’ve hit the nail on the head! :)

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