Getting Your Kids to Open Up: Advice From A Therapist

By Talia Filippelli, LCSW

Parents are always searching for answers on how to get more than one-word responses from their kids. I’m sure this conversation sounds familiar:

Parent: How was your day?

Child: Fine.

Parent: Did anything good happen?

Child: No.

Parent: What’s the latest with your friends?

Child: Nothing.

There’s a simple way to transform this dialogue from awkward to amazing…

Don’t make eye contact.

I know that sounds irrational, but let me explain. Remember that time you were sent to the principal’s office as a kid? Okay I’m sure you were well-behaved so just use your imagination (wink wink)! Imagine a child sitting across from an adult with a large desk between them. They’re face to face. The child is being questioned. He’s looking around the room at anything but the principal and cannot wait to get the heck out of there. Pretty intense, right?

Without realizing it, you could be inadvertently triggering the very same feelings in your child when you think you’re harmlessly asking them about their school day.

So here’s the scoop on eye contact and kids…

Kids can feel intimidated by sustained 1:1 eye contact with an adult. It reminds them of the last time they were in trouble, and they respond accordingly by clamming up and shutting up. Obviously this isn’t exactly what you were going for when you thought you’d have a fulfilling conversation with your child after school. So, instead, try something different.

Change up the setting by taking a walk, a drive in the car, or grab a seat on Pier A and enjoy the view! Looking in the same direction as your child will remove the intimidation factor, allowing them to let down their defenses and open up to you. The act of walking will also raise the “feel good” hormones in your bodies – giving your child (and you) that extra boost that will melt away stress and make this conversation a success. Give it a try and let us know how you do by leaving a comment!