By Rabbi Yaakov Lieder
At the Passover Seder we are told to do as many different and unusual things as possible to arouse the curiosity of our children and get them to ask questions. This allows us to engage in dialogue with them, as it is only through listening to the questions of the child that we can know their inner feelings and design our discussions with them accordingly.
If you have more than one child, you’ll know that each of your children is different. Some children are very talkative and you can find it hard to stop them from telling you everything that has happened to them. Some children are not talkative, and it’s very hard for you to know what’s really going on in their life and in their mind. As a parent of such a child you may want to explore one of the following reasons for the child’s reluctance to offer information about him or herself.
With some children it may be related to a previous negative experience. A parent may have listened to her, but when the child had shared what had happened to her, the parent had judged her, saying, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Or a child may have felt that the parent was not really listening or not really interested in what he had to say. Or the child may have experienced a lack of confidentiality regarding what he shared with his parent.
As parents, we should aim to build up the self-confidence of our children. They should want to share their inner experiences with us, because if they do not feel comfortable sharing it with us, they may look to share it with others, which at times can be inappropriate.
With a non-talkative child it is a good idea to allocate private time when you sit and listen to the child. Ask the child open-ended questions like, “How was your day at school? Who are your best friends? Why do you like them more than others? Tell me what is the best thing that happened to you today? Did anything bad happen to you today?” Ask the child his/her opinions about family or personal matters.
By listening intently, making eye contact with the child and continuing to ask questions, you will learn more about your child’s inner feelings and experiences. When they do share them with you, be very careful not to judge or criticise the child.
I know some parents who use bedtime as an opportunity for listening and bonding. They will lie down on the child’s bed with their arm around him or her and spend time listening and talking to the child about what’s going on in his/her life. These are times their child will cherish forever!
If these habits are begun early, by the time the children become teenagers, they will be more comfortable talking to their parents than to strangers.
Some children may at first feel uncomfortable sitting down at an official time to talk to their parents. Be very careful not to hassle and force them to talk. You don’t want it to become a negative experience for them. Just ask casual questions like, ‘How was your test today? What did you play at recess?’ You could also ask them, ‘If you could have anything you want in life, what would be the three most important things that you would want?’ That will tell you what things are important in your child’s life. Slowly but surely you will build up a rapport with your children so that they will be comfortable to open up and discuss personal issues.
You also have to make sure that the talkative child does not take over the show, leaving the quiet one to withdraw into his/her own thoughts.
Excerpt from: “14 Kids, No Theories”
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