In this week’s What’s Working edition (for archives click here) I’m focusing on a few things I do to help foster conversations about feelings with my boys.
Talking about feelings: everybody’s favorite thing! Wait. No.
My research shows people think about them way more than we talk about them. And we also want our kids to talk about them even though, ahem, we do not.
So … be warned these activities require your participation, patience and leadership. This isn’t just for parents, either. This is for people who want to foster good conversations and trust with children to pave the way for long-term engagement.
Here are a few things that work for me:
Take a Bite:
So easy it’s shocking. It’s fun to start with something they don’t like so they KNOW they have a choice NOT to take a bite.
Kids + choices* = good thing.
*Offer only choices you can live with, i.e. do you really care if she takes a big or small bite? Do you really care if it takes twenty minutes instead of ten to eat dinner? Do you really care if he eats his peas before his potatoes?
Here’s how to play:
Look around the table and in an enthusiastic voice (kids are good lie detectors so this can’t be through gritted teeth) ask “Who wants to play ‘take a bite?’” Then as they look at you just start the game.
“It’s like this … take a bite if you like spiders.” (Make sure you play too, so if you don’t like spiders, don’t take one.)
“Okay … take a bite if you like ice cream.”
Take a bite if you like swimming.
Take a bite if you like Hello Kitty.
Take a bite if you like Minecraft.
Super easy. Watch them get through a bowl of dinner while giggling at each other.
This works because you're spending precious time talking about little things that matter to them. You are showing them you pay attention, that you care and that you also can still be surprised by them. And they by you.
Working from oldest to youngest, work your way around the table to share a highlight and a low point from the day. It’s important to make it just one that comes to mind or stands out at the moment because trying to think of The Best Part or The Worst Part of a day can paralyze the conversation as children (and adults!) try to come up with The Right Answer.
Really, it’s just a conversation starter but if you haven’t played this before you might be surprised at the little, interesting things that come up. To tell you the truth, I learn even more about my husband’s day-to-day life during these rounds of highlight/lowlight than I do the boys’.
The key to this game working is to be willing to be open and honest yourself. Note: this would not be a good time to mention passive aggressive digs. For example, my true lowlight was an exchange with my spouse but the point of this exercise is to build and strengthen relationships and not create awkward silence.
So if I were playing right this minute my turn would go like this:
“My highlights so far today are getting an extra morning snuggle with Jake and that Sam made his breakfast and did his dishes. My lowlight so far is feeling nervous about a doctor’s appointment.”
Sometimes there is follow up and questions but usually we just keep going around the table – kind of like if you’ve ever been to a 12-step meeting one of the coolest, weirdest parts is that there is an open sharing time with no cross-talk. That means no one one-ups you, no one minimizes you, no one tries to talk you out of how you feel, no one advises you: they just listen. They just hear you. It’s a beautiful gift.
This is a part of our bedtime routine. We snuggle the boys and and with the lights out we have talking time. Sometimes they pick a theme, like an upcoming trip or holiday, sometimes it’s about random parts of the day. Sometimes it’s big stuff: how old will I be when I die? (Luckily that was one time Matt was doing it and he answered perfectly: at the very end of your life.)
Something about the dark and safety of a snuggle is disarming. Something about knowing they have this time with you to count on paves the way to good conversations.
Last night was a tough one because Sam wanted to debrief on something he observed that falls into the category of “adult things.” I let him tell me what he thought, how he felt about it and validated his feelings. It is okay to love someone and be sad about something they do or say. It is okay to be mad, it is okay to be confused. And someday we will talk more about the details, I promise. Your dad and I love you and your brother more than anyone in the world, no matter what. And then I stopped talking. Super important part right there to make room for whatever they have to say. Or just to ponder in silence.
After a few minutes he said, “Mama? Promise to tell me the truth? I promise not to be hurt or mad.”
Gah! Not. Ready. Glad it’s dark. Just buy time until we figure things out…. “Yes. I promise.”
“Is Santa real?”
Oh. That was even harder than the one I was bracing for. That’ll have to be it’s own post entirely. I told him the truth. No spoilers here though just in case. And by the truth I mean I answered specific questions and concluded with “You can believe for as long as you want.”
“Okay, thank you.”
But usually things aren’t quite as deep. But the point of spending time in the shallow end is so we can handle the deep. You got this.
As far as how long to do this … it’s good to set a fairly consistent window of time so they know how much time they have. I usually start wrapping up with a back scratch or some tapping so they can relax into sleeping through the whole night. (I can dream, right?)
If you find this post helpful, I’d love for you to share it with your people. This is a topic I’m passionate about and I’d love to hear your experiences if you already do these, or after you try a few!
And … a feeling-free tip:
Summer Fun Hack:
Pour leftover juice/shakes/water with berries into these cute popsicle molds. Freeze.
Send them outside to eat them.
Everyone who brings the container back can have one tomorrow.
(I found that lids attached are clutch.) *
Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting.
*Affiliate disclaimer: I tend to keep Nathalie’s Notes ad-free, you’re welcome! Though I sometimes promote products I whole-heartedly endorse. If I am ever paid to say so, I will disclose that. Not just ‘cause it’s the law. I get a few pennies when people shop on Amazon through my links/store. Thanks for your support!
(If you’re buying books please consider ordering through your local, independent bookstore! A few of my favorites: Chapters in Newberg, Third Street Books in McMinnville, Cloud and Leaf in Manzanita, Book & Game in Walla Walla and Powell’s in Portland.)
The designer for the cute details in the photo above is Meghan Mullens. Check out her work here: https://www.facebook.com/meghanmullensdesigns.