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Communicate with Kids and Teens

Communicating with Kids – Getting Children and Teens to Open Up

October 16 2018     By Boys Town Contributor

Child Development, Communicating with Children, Communicating with Kids, Connecting with Kids, Connecting with Teens, Parent-Child Relationships

Communicating with Kids is a seven-part series on how parents can better communicate with children of all ages. Each month we pose a specific question about communication to a variety of our Boys Town experts: from the Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health® to the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® program and many who serve the Boys Town National Hotline®.

Part 1

Rather than "good" or "fine," how do you get kids to open up about their day?

K-3rd Grade

If you don't want a closed-ended answer ("Fine," "No," "Yes," "I don't know"), avoid asking children close-ended, generalized questions – especially ones like, "How was your day?" Instead, ask them to share stories, events and even a "wish list" about their day. Use questions like:

  • "What do you wish would have happened at school today?"
  • "What was the funniest thing that happened today?"
      • "Tell me what caused you the most anxiety today."

These types of questions will lead to follow-up questions that help reveal to you your child's interactions, both good and bad. It is also important to listen without judgment.

Bridget Barnes, Director, Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting

4th-8th Grade

First of all, kids dislike being asked questions like, "Tell me about your day" or "How did your day go?" This is especially true if there's been a history of trouble at school. It kind of sets them up, knowing that people are looking for problems or trouble. So instead of asking questions like that, I would encourage parents to first share a bit about their day and some of the ups and downs. Then, let silence do its job, be attentive and listen and see what children come up with. Most likely they'll be willing to share, too. Also, timing is really important. Some kids might not be ready or willing to share during certain parts of the day. Approach kids when they are most likely to be talkative and open.   

Julie Almquist, Manager, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

9th-12th Grade (Teens)

Have this conversation often so communication is commonplace and expected. Ask open-ended questions. If you ask a yes or no question, you are likely to get a grunt or if you are lucky, a simple "Yes" or "No" answer back. Get creative in your questions and have fun with it. Some examples of open-ended questions are:   

  • What is the coolest thing you learned today?
  • Tell me what the latest scoop is on campus. 

Model good communication skills by opening up about your day. Share something funny, bring up an interesting piece of current news or connect with your teen on a common interest. If you know little or nothing about the sports team or club your teen participates in, educate yourself, ask questions about it and get excited with them. Kids might start offering unsolicited conversations if you make this a habit.

Finally, timing is everything. A barrage of questions first thing in the morning or right after school will likely be met with annoyance.

Laura K, Boys Town National Hotline Crisis Counselor

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