How to Discover Kids' True Opinion About Well . . . Anything
Gotta admit. Sometimes kids have an adorable way of avoiding the truth. Even when asked directly, their double-talk is so obvious it's kind of endearing.
There are times when, as parents, we need to know what they really think about a given topic -- we need to make sure they're headed in the right direction. Especially when it comes to diversity conversations.
To help, we put together 6 tried-and-true ways you can find out what your child is really thinking. Let's get started.
1. Pick the Right Time
Timing really is everything. Trying to start a conversation when your child is playing a game, reading, or watching TV almost never works. They'll probably find it intrusive before you even start talking. Plus you won't have their full attention.
Instead, try to connect with them anywhere you can when they're not pre-occupied. This could be in the car, at the store, or eating a meal together.
If it's not the right time, wait.
2. Keep it Casual
Because kids tend to shy away from face-to-face, formal discussions, the best way to learn their opinion is to listen and learn sporadically. There's no need for a one-time, sit-down, eye-to-eye conversation. Keep it simple and casual.
Try to initiate as many nonchalant conversations as you can - you know them best.
3. Say the Minimum
Most parents know that if you go into a long drawn-out explanation, kids completely lose interest in the conversation and move on to the next thing that grabs their attention.
Shorten your sentences.
TIP: Because we usually think three to four times faster than we talk, we often get impatient with a speaker's slow progress, especially children, and our minds wander. We start to think about what we're going to say next. Instead, try using the extra time to silently consider the speaker's point, then let them know that you're interested in hearing more.
4. Use Examples from Their World
This one probably has the most immediate effect.
Try to relate whatever it is you're trying to learn their opinion about, to their everyday life. For example, if you want to know their true opinion of LGBTQ equality, you could ask if there any activities or changes at their school that reflect the growing movement toward LGBTQ equality.
Are there any posters in their classroom that depict a famous LGBTQ person? Any new lesson plans? Teachers? Students? Playground rules? It could be as simple as a new seating assignment. Whatever gets them talking.
5. Listen Intentionally Once They Start Talking
Once your child starts talking, listen attentively and silently. The only words you need to utter, if any, are to let them know you're eager to learn more. Be ready to listen without judgement.
Never interrupt. Even if what they're saying is completely against everything you believe in, try to remind yourself that this is their time to talk and your time to listen and learn.
Let your child sort through their feelings as they talk. While they're talking, if you feel like you're going to burst if you don't say something, feel free to nod your head and say "hmmm."
Otherwise, here are some phrases you could use to let them know you're interested in what they're saying and you want to learn more:
- “Tell me more. “
- “Wow, you have quite a story to share. “
- “Please keep talking. I'm really interested.“
- “It sounds like you have a lot on your mind, so I'm glad you're talking.“
- “I love that you're so open and honest with your feelings.“
- “It means a lot to me that you feel comfortable talking to me.“
- “You're doing a great job of describing what happened.“
- “Could you repeat that? I want to be sure I understand what you're going through.“
Listen to what your child tells you or doesn't tell you. Look for messages even in silence or outbursts. Listen carefully―not just to the words, but to the feelings (and body language) behind them.
Silence makes most of us uncomfortable. But if you can stay quiet during moments of silence while s/he's gathering their thoughts, you might be surprised by what s/he says next and what you learn.
6. Read between the lines
Regardless of the subject of your casual conversation, it’s possible to read between the lines of what they’re telling you or asking you.
For example, suppose your child tells you that one of their peers, Ben, is an only child and has two moms. They tell you they feel sorry for Ben because he doesn’t have a brother or a dad.
You could infer from this conversation that your child isn’t 100% on board with same-sex families (or whatever the subject). Dig deeper to find out if their opinion about Ben's family translates to a general disapproval of same-sex families. Or maybe it's just a one-off comment. Find out more by asking specific questions about LGBTQ equality.