Every time I talk to a group of parents about tweens and teens, I get the same question:
“I understand the importance of talking with my son, and I really want to talk with him about these things, but whenever I ask him a question he clams up or gives the shortest possible answer. How can I get my son to talk to me?”
I feel your pain! Here are some tips that work for me and my son. I hope they help you, too.
1) Don’t ambush me, mom.
Boys don’t like to be caught off-guard. You know the stereotype about men and multitasking? Well, stereotypes exist for a reason. Like men, boys prefer to focus on one thing at a time without being interrupted. Asking your son “how was school?” may seem like a simple enough question to you, but to him it’s a fly buzzing around his TV show/book/snack/tossing-crumpled-paper-balls-into-the-trash-can-activity. To avoid a blow off answer like “fine” or “I don’t know” try giving your son a heads up when you want to talk. If there’s a conversation you really want to have, approach it like this:
“I’ve been wondering how school is going and I’d love to hear about your classes. I know you’re busy now, but do you think after football practice we could spend ten minutes together talking about your teachers?”
After football practice, when he knows it’s time to focus on your talk, he’ll be much more likely to give you his full attention and open up. Your son wants to meet your expectations. This will help him feel he is.
2) Oh, yeah, don’t ask “how was school today?”.
Boys respond better to concrete questions than open-ended questions. Try starting as specific as possible with your line of questions and getting broader as you go, as in:
You: “How hard is your math teacher this year?”
Son: “He’s not hard. “
You: Oh, I thought I heard he was. What’s he like?”
Son: “He’s funny. He doesn’t give much homework.”
You: Huh. Who’s your best teacher?”
As opposed to:
3) Apply the number one rule of prison communication. No eye contact.
My son talks my ear off whenever we get on our bikes. For the rest of my life, I hope I remember the feeling of pedaling alongside him, wind blowing through my beautiful black helmet (haha), listening to my son tell me about everything from funny things that happened at recess, to observations about our neighborhood, to why certain football players are his favorite. Pure joy! Second to bike rides are our conversations when we are in the car, or when he is in the shower shouting out to me. I can’t pick the places. This is just where the magic happens: In no eye contact territory.
4) Believe Vanilla Ice: If you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.
Boys are natural problem solvers. They like making things right. I wouldn’t overuse this one, but for topics that are very important to me I’ll try this approach:
“Can I get your help? I’m trying to figure out what to do about a problem/opportunity and I want your advice.”
Don’t forget to schedule ahead for this. (See rule number one)
Let the conversations commence!