Keep them talking. I don’t feel confident about much when it comes to parenthood, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s one of the most important parts. Keep. Them. Talking. In fact, it’s the basis of the #TalkEarly campaign for Responsiblity.org, who is sponsoring this post.

Granted, it’s pretty easy now. The kids are fountains of words somedays- tiny story tellers who couldn’t censor their thoughts if they tried.

I see that wall starting to go up a little, though, especially with my 8 year old.

“What did you do today?”
“Nothing.”
“Who did you play with?”
“My friends.”
“Did you stay out of trouble?”
“Yes.”

Cool story, bro. Thanks for the update.

I don’t need to know all the mundane details of his day, but I press for them anyway, hoping that I’m paving a road that will remain open when the details mean much more in the coming years.

Here are a few ways we’re trying to be there to hear the small stuff, so that one day they’ll come to us with the big stuff:

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Dedicated Listening Times

Some nights, I’d really rather tuck them in quickly and get back to work, or let them all eat dinner in front of the TV so I don’t have to hear the inevitable dinner table whining.

For our family, though, those are two times of the day that we’ve decided to devote our attention to the kids as best we can. 95% of our dinners are at the table as a family, TV off, ears open, no phones allowed, even if what we’re eating came from a drive-through.

Bedtime can become quite the ordeal, and takes longer than I’d like most nights, honestly. But, that time that Scott and I take turns laying in bed with each kid, discussing whatever it is they want to talk about, can give us so much insight into what they’re currently experiencing.

Open Ended Questions That Never Stop

Just because they don’t give us in-depth answers, or they seem annoyed by us, doesn’t mean we’re going to give up trying to initiate the dialogue. It’s not that we interrogate them, but anytime an opportunity presents itself for discussion- in the car, at the grocery store, after witnessing something that we feel we should talk more about- we try to engage them in casual conversation.

It’s less about teaching them a lesson, and more about listening to what they think the lesson is. There’s no “Let’s have a talk about (topic).” We try to let these things come up naturally.

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When All Else Fails, Try Ice Cream

After their first day of school, I took them to a local fro-yo place. We talked in between bites for the first half of our time at the table, until some neighborhood friends showed up.

Of course, it’s not about the ice cream, but about the special time together, doing something fun, and letting the conversation happen naturally. It could just as easily be at the batting cages, or out shopping, or at a basketball game.

#TalkEarly

At ages 8, 5, and 3, our main concerns are finding out if they’re feeling safe at school and other people’s houses, do they feel bullied, are they behaving in appropriate ways- that kind of stuff. It won’t be long, though, before we really need to be a safe landing place for issues like alcohol use.

Hopefully, by talking early, and talking often from young ages about the school day and other small things, they will trust us with the big things later.

I’m honored to be a part of the #TalkEarly ambassador team this year. You can read more about why here. This post was part of a paid campaign for Responsibility.org which promotes alcohol responsibility. 

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