Kids: Open to Discussion

Gabbing is good for kids. Researchers at the Emory University Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life studied the conversations of Atlanta-area families and came across some noteworthy findings. Parents who encourage their children to talk about feelings, like anger and sadness, were more likely to raise resilient kids.

The researchers took special note of family conversations concerning negative events such as a death. In these instances, kids struggled to understand what happened. When parents didn't shut them down, children felt accepted and acknowledged. More than that, these children also had better self-esteem and were more socially adept.

In discussing a negative event, people often recall things differently and they disagree on how the event unfolded. Yet it's a good thing that they have their different perspectives, because it gives children the chance to learn how to listen and be heard. In fact, when parents let each family member air his or her point of view, kids learn how to negotiate differences of opinion.

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The bottom line is: Children who talk about their feelings are much better off. Here are a few tips to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Start early. Listen to your child when he is very young. If he learns as a child that you will drop everything and listen, he will continue to talk as he grows up.
  • Make yourself available—even if it's inconvenient for you. Children may want to talk at the end of the day when you're exhausted, but don't miss the chance to communicate.
  • Don't judge. A child will become defensive when he feels he is being judged. That's when communication stops.
  • Refrain from interrupting your child; let her talk even when you don't want to hear what she has to say.
  • If you ask a question, begin with the words like "tell me" or "how." This encourages a child to be specific and lessens the chance of her shutting down.
  • Don't get emotional; remain calm. If you have something to say, think beforehand.
  • If your child tells you something shocking, don't show it. Otherwise, she will stop talking for good.
  • Engage in activities together. Take a walk, run or go to the gym together. Or try a trip to the museum or cultural center.
  • Try a new restaurant and perhaps a new type of food. New experiences will help inspire discussion of all types.
  • Eat dinner together. Children who sit down at the family dinner table three to five times a week are less likely to smoke, drink, and take drugs than kids who dine on their own. They also have better grades and fewer emotional problems.

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