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Every day you ask your kids how school was and almost every day, they tell you school was “fine” or “OK.” You’re dying to know more about their lives, but the usual questions yield no answers. There must be a better way.
“Often kids don’t engage because they are afraid of being judged,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert. “Even if they never say ‘Yes, I want to tell you a story,’ they want you to keep asking. They may never say ‘yes,’ but don’t stop asking.”
While coaxing a story from children can be a struggle, she believes that when parents allow their kids to direct the conversation, it leads to better answers.
“I think that it is totally acceptable to give kids that space and say ‘OK, then tell us a story,’” Gilboa says.
She realizes it can be a struggle for parents: You want to ask your kids who they play with at recess because you’re worried whether they have friends. But when kids direct the conversation, you’ll get better responses.
Cultivating storytelling instead of an interview style conversation with yes-no answers also goes a long way when it comes to parent-child dialogues.
Gilboa shares a favorite strategy: When the family is gathered, members play a game they call “high, low, high,” which encourages storytelling. Each person in the family — including Gilboa and her husband — has to tell one high from the day, one low from the day, and another high for the day (to end on a positive note).
When the family started this tradition, the adults kicked off the conversation, sharing their highs and low, as a model. But now, her children want to play the game and often lead the discussion. The game changed how the family members talk and interact with one another.
“When we tell a low, everyone tries problem solving,” she says. “It does not set up the expectation that the kids are the information givers and the parents are the advice givers.”
What Gilboa finds is that her kids try to help her with her problems and they remember things about her even better. More importantly, the game fosters a comfortable space where her children want to share information about their lives.
“It is a great way to build your family culture to storytelling … and sharing experiences,” she says.