PARENTING TODAY: Some dinner-table queries with kids best left alone

Have you ever played the email conversation game?

You send an email, the recipient responds and it’s clear he didn’t quite get the message. So you reply trying to clarify the information. It’s very frustrating.

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Finally, you realize that this isn’t a good use of email. You need to pick up the phone and have a real conversation.

I’ve been doing that more and more. There are times for messages and email is fabulous for that. And there are times for conversations to explain, discuss, clarify and enhance understanding.

All of which causes me to think about our communication with our kids. If we are losing our ability to communicate with our peers, what is this doing to our communication with our children?

One conversation we are always struggling with is getting the kids to tell us what happened at school. Let’s look at what many of us do now. The minute we see our child, we hug them then immediately we engage them in a dialogue about their day at school. “Did you have a good day?” Did Mr. Purdy give you that test?” “How did you do with your English report?”

Did I say dialogue? Sounds like an interrogation. How would you like to come home from work, put down your briefcase or take off your hardhat and have the questions begin? “Did your boss talk to you today? Did you finish that section of flooring in the building you’re working on?”

 You would likely say something like, “I’m tired, I’ve had a long day, leave me alone for Pete’s sake.”

Of course we want to know what our children are doing when they are not with us. But the bottom line is that much of it is boring and some of it is none of our business.

Between classes Roger and Gil talked about the football game and during class the teacher droned on about the Peloponnesian Wars and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Surrinder and Marie had a long conversation about their classmate, Justin. Surrinder asked Marie if she thinks that Justin likes her. He did look across the room and smile, didn’t he? Should she go up to him and say hello? This conversation went on for most of the day and trust me this is one you will not be privy to, it’s private.

So what does all this mean? We need to learn to converse, not interrogate and to respect our children’s privacy. They will choose what to tell us in the same way that we choose what to tell them, our spouses, parents and friends.

Conversation requires time. When all our communication takes place on the fly it tends to become terse and bland. We share basic information. “Mom, I need a ride to Jessica’s place tonight.” Or we determine basic facts. “Terry, have you finished your homework?”

The old-fashioned family meal is still the best time for family conversation. I know, for most of you, sitting down together seven nights a week is a dream, not a reality. But with a little planning we can often pull it off four nights a week, and don’t forget breakfast. Some families actually make breakfast a family meal.

Instead of grilling your kids, start to chat. Tell a funny story about something that happened to you during the day. Comment on something you read in the paper. Or even talk about the weather. Conversation invites reply.

Then listen. If we interrupt with life lessons, with questions and with criticism our kids will soon learn to stay silent. When they have finished then you can reply. And reply with respect.

If they tell a story about a situation which they didn’t handle well avoid saying, “Don’t you think that was a mistake?” Instead say something like, “Are you happy with how you handled that situation? What could you have done differently?”

But don’t feel that every story, every comment has to turn into a lesson. For the most part it’s simply a conversation between people who are interested in each other. 

Kathy Lynn is the author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at


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