When my children were teens I read an article to them that said a recent study had shown families spoke fewer than nine non-directional sentences to each other in the course of a day. My children were shocked, pointing out that we passed up those nine sentences before breakfast and kept right on talking throughout the day. Of course, we homeschooled, so we had a lot more time together than most families, but even in a more typical busy family there are ways to increase the conversation flow.
Every family has things that need to be done and those necessary chores can be enhanced with conversation. Try these techniques for fitting in a little conversation with your chores:
- Never run errands alone. Take one or more children with you and outlaw music, phones, and other distractions. Make a rule that everyone in the car, the store, and wherever else you might be must converse. If your children aren’t used to this it may seem stressful at first, but everyone will adjust. Taking just one child allows for intimate conversation in the privacy of a car—but concentrate on making it pleasant, not a time for lectures or they will refuse to come along next time. Instead, ask light questions about school, friends, even political opinions. Use the time to learn about your child.
- Do chores together. In some homes everyone goes off to a private corner to do his or her chores. When I was growing up, we did our chores in the same area so we could talk, sing, or play games as we worked. My mother worked right along with us so she naturally joined in or even led our conversations.
- Family time should not always be movie night. You can’t talk during a movie. Vary the activities you do during schedule family time. Play games, go on non-intense outings, read together, sit outside and chat, or go for a walk.
- Invite one child to help you with cooking or dishes. This allows for more one-on-one time.
- Consider working on your computer out in the open instead of in an office. I took my laptop to the kitchen, where children were always passing through. As they entered, I shut the lid, signifying I was available to chat if anyone wanted to. It’s a little harder to concentrate and it means your work will take longer, but in the eternal scheme of things, those conversations will take you further than your work.
- If conversation seems difficult, make a list of possible topics and put them in a jar. A few times a week, let each person draw one from the jar at dinner time and start the conversation. In time, you’ll get better at it.
- Don’t mingle judgment with conversation. Save the lectures for lecture time, not conversation time. Make it pleasant for your children to just sit and chat.
- Create places reserved for conversation. If possible, don’t have a television in your living room—or keep it off most of the day. Don’t allow headphones or other private music devices in the room. When you’re in the living room, you’re socializing with the others who are there. The kitchen or dining room could serve the same purpose if you make it a warm and inviting place so everyone seems to end up there.
- Introduce religious topics and values naturally. When watching television or reading together, ask the family how they feel about the choices the characters made and what they would have done in that situation. Encourage them to try to understand what made the characters make the choices they did and what impact it would have on them. Ask your children what they learned in church and then talk about it. When your children talk about something that happened in school, ask them how they feel about it and how they handle these types of things.
10. Listen without judgment. Listen now, accept what your child says, and then gently guide him to a better way over time. Rushing in with a lecture is the best way to stop your children from coming to you. Create a safe environment for confidences and admissions of mistakes. You don’t have to let bad behavior pass by unhandled—just handle it calmly and respectfully.