Even when raised in the same family, children can be vastly different. They are unique and their little personalities take shape well before we have the chance to mold them. Soon after my second son was born, I remember being astounded at how differently he and his brother would respond to the same situation. As they grew older and their personalities took shape even more, I realized dealing them in exact same way often does not work. Altering my parenting style is often necessary, especially when getting them to open up. For instance, while my middle son will talk the ear off most willing listeners, my eldest rarely gives more than a one word answer when asked about his day. While being guarded isn’t always a bad thing, it is important to me that he doesn’t get bottled up. As a tween life can run the gamut of emotions. Our children often have the additional burden of processing other people’s microaggressions and stereotypes that aren’t always easy for a young mind to understand. It is important to me that my son knows I am available to listen whenever he needs me. Here are some tricks I have learned to get my son to open up:
1. Create a judgment-free zone.
I found some of what fuels my son’s unwillingness to open up is a fear of being judged. He is extremely sensitive and when he speaks, is it very important to him that he feels heard and not judged for his feelings or actions. If my husband or I rush to a conclusion about something he has confided in us, he grows emotional or worse, he shuts down.
As a parent, it is instinctual to want to protect your child. Often that means listening to them with some level of judgment. We all do it. We want to make sure they are making the right choices when they aren’t with us, and if they tell us something that we know may lead to harm, our first instinct is to get them back on the right path. However, I have learned to be gentle in that guidance when it comes to my guarded son. I start by letting him know how much I value his honesty. I also consistently let him know he can talk to me about anything and everything and I will (try my best to) listen without anger. Rather than lecturing him immediately, I have learned to ask him questions that will lead him to the right conclusion. Instead of saying, you shouldn’t have done that. I ask, what consequences do you think you could face? What do you think you could have done differently? These open-ended questions not only fuel the conversation, but they give him the intellectual freedom to draw his own conclusions without feeling judged.
2. Make one-on-one time.
I always know my son wants to talk when he volunteers to go with me on an errand. It is usually a random request to ride with me to Target or walk with me to the cluster mailbox in our cul de sac. As a family of four (soon to be five), it isn’t always easy for him to grab alone time with me or my husband. I learned quickly that these seemingly small requests were his way of getting the alone time he craved. Inevitably, he starts talking.
When you have more than one child, alone time is important to all children, not just your introverted child. Each child needs your undivided attention outside the often judgmental and immature ears of siblings. When my middle son was in preschool, we discovered a local cafe that had a “cookie of the day.” It was such a fun discovery for both of us because the place had little tables by the lake and plenty of space for him to run around. It became a regular ritual for us to go get a quick cookie during the time between when he was dismissed from school and when my oldest got out a few hours later. Even at four years old, it quickly turned into a time for us to talk. Even if you can’t steal away time with your child, find small moments at home. When my eldest was small, I would snuggle with him for a few moments in his room before he fell asleep. Now, he has a later bedtime than his younger siblings so sometimes he spends it smashed between my husband and I on the couch giggling at a family-friendly TV show. These moments provide him with an opportunity to open up to us about anything that may have been weighing on him throughout his day.
3. Be open about your own thoughts and feelings.
Last school year, my son had some issues with a few boys in school when they decided they didn’t want to play with him anymore. He didn’t come right out and admit it bothered him but he mentioned the incident in passing with a small shrug. I knew he was affected by it but he wasn’t quite comfortable being vulnerable enough to admit it. Knowing that coaxing him would not work, I told him a story of a similar experience I had when a few girls in my elementary school treated me in a similar way. It was surprisingly easy to dig back to that time and remember my own hurt and confusion. He listened intently and it wasn’t long before he was echoing my feelings and asking me how I solved the problem.
Developing a relationship with your child is a two-way street. In order to gain their trust, it is often necessary to give them yours. By confiding in your child about your own insecurities and vulnerabilities, you allow them to see your humanity. Building that foundation is crucial to breaking your introverted child out of their shell.
4. Give your child your full attention.
My sons ALWAYS know when I am distracted. They call me on it and hold me accountable. I work from home and have additional projects that make my schedule unconventional. I would probably lose days on my computer if it weren’t for my children constantly reminding me to exist in reality. Introverted children are particularly sensitive to distraction. Opening up is not easy. When they do, it is important they have your full, undivided attention. If it’s not possible to drop everything when they need to talk, make sure you schedule a time when you can. Don’t just say “we’ll talk later.” Give them specifics and make sure to follow through. Scheduling a time to talk shows them that what they have to say is important to you and you will make it a priority to hear it.
What do you think, family? Share your tips and tricks for getting your child to open up in the comments below. It takes a village!
About The Author
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.