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How to Start a Conversation With Your Kids: A Guide by Age

White Plains Hospital

March 11, 2020

How to Start a Conversation With Your Kids: A Guide by Age

Talking about milder topics today can prepare you and your child for the trickier conversations later.

Like everything, talking gets easier with practice, especially when it comes to your children. Parents may not realize this until the day they are suddenly faced with a challenging topic, be it something shocking stumbled upon on social media, an incident at school, or even a global pandemic. “Talking to your children early and often about routine everyday subjects is one of the best ways to foster an open dialogue for any situation,” says White Plains Hospital pediatrician Dr. Emily Colantoni. “Fostering an open dialogue about anything helps children feel safe and loved, as well as strengthens your bond with them.”

When beginning a conversation, it’s best to use your child’s age as a guideline for what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Dr. Colantoni offers advice for each stage of development:

Ages 2-6

“Even before children can speak with words, including them in a verbal exchange from early on invites them to participate actively and makes them part of the conversation from the beginning,” Dr. Colantoni says.

- Set aside quiet time to talk every day. May parents swear by the calm doze of bedtime as prime talking time!
- Break down open-ended questions into simple terms
- Share something about yourself first to make them feel comfortable
Questions: What did you do at school today? What is one nice thing that someone did for you today? How does wearing a mask make you feel?

Ages 7-12

School aged kids and tweens still ask lots of questions and want to talk to you, but don’t get used to this as they get closer to teen years. At this age, it’s a great time to gain some perspective of any issues they might be encountering at school so you can help to nip them in the bud. “As kids grow and develop their abstract thinking skills and real world experience, you can ask slightly more probing questions, while still keeping the conversation light and positive,” notes Dr. Colantoni.

- Use family dinner to share around the table or create a game that will put reluctant sharers more at ease. Use those long rides to sports games as an opportunity to open up.
- Don’t expect 100% focus. Fidgeting or doing something else during the conversation lessens anxiety around certain topics
- Use nonjudgmental tones when addressing touchier topics, like social media, friends and bullying
Questions: Were you respectful to your friends today, and were they respectful to you? Do any of your video games ask for friend requests? Do you ever pretend to be someone or something else?

Ages 13-17

By this age, your teen may think they know more than you, which makes it the most challenging age to foster a dialogue. With teens, just sitting back and listening may be the most powerful way you can communicate with your kids. “Parents should actually be doing more listening than talking at this stage,” says Dr. Colantoni. “Kids at this age who feel loved and supported will oftentimes figure out the solutions to problems on their own. They need to know that you are there for them, and that they are being heard more than being lectured.”

- Avoid direct, hot-button questions; wait for opportunities to ask non-judgmental questions
- Control your emotions and be extra patient
- Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but gently offer help and advice if they want it
Questions: Do your friends ever pressure you to do something you are not comfortable with? How do you react? If you saw someone post an unkind comment about someone else online, how would you handle that? How does the food you like make you feel? Energized? Sleepy? What worries you about COVID-19? Do you feel you have been productive with your schoolwork with these additional challenges?

For more information or to find a Pediatrician, call (914) 849-6963.