Ah, summer! How we love you for carefree days and absence of rigid schedules that come with the school year. As we turn off alarm clocks, kids breathe a sigh of relief about the reprieve from nightly homework, and we look forward to time together at home and during summer vacations, it’s the perfect time to seize opportunities to have meaningful conversations to continue learning.
We know the “summer slide” exists thanks to statistics that demonstrate the impact the absence of school can have on our kids’ learning. Instead of filling their days with math and reading packets, summer is also the perfect time to sit down for some real conversations with your kids. Over the years working with Responsibility.org first as a member of #TalkEarly and now as an Educational Advisory Board member, I’ve learned effective strategies to talk to my kids about underage drinking and thought I’d share ways you can keep conversations flowing to keep brains smart during the summer and throughout the school year.
Make yourself available to keep lines of communication open
Families who don’t spend time together have difficulty having conversations due to the lack of time, but sometimes it just takes five minutes to let your kids know you’re there for them. Seize the briefest moments to talk whether they’re in the car to and from the pool, before or after camp, while grabbing a bite to eat before rushing out the door to start your day, or in the evenings when everyone is finally home for the night. Having just a few minutes to check in helps keep lines of communication open.
Let them know they can talk to you about anything
Talking about the mundane events in the everyday allows kids to realize that they can come to you with bigger issues and concerns such as underage drinking, sex, puberty, and so much more! We can’t assume that just anyone will teach our kids about these topics and chances are, we wouldn’t want them to. Rather than taking a chance that information might come from another source when our kids may not quite be ready for it, take charge and provide kids with information they need when they’re ready. This also helps prevent them from getting misinformation from unreliable sources such as the dreaded friend grapevine.
Seize teachable moments
In addition to making ourselves available for conversations, we also should be prepared for the unexpected to happen at any time. Kids are full of surprises, and while we can’t always anticipate what they’re going to want to talk about and when, being open means having the best poker face possible. If they can see from your facial expression that they’ve brought up a subject you’re not so comfortable with, they’re not as likely discuss other topics with you in the future.
Stop talking and listen
As a mom of two middle schoolers, I always keep Dr. Anthony Wolf’s advice to shut up and listen in the back of my mind. As a father, pediatrician, and former Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility board member, Dr. Wolf believes that while we may need to capitalize on teachable moments, we also need to let our kids feel like they’ve been heard. When kids feel like they’re being listened to, they’re more likely to listen to us.
Ask open ended questions to follow up but don’t pry
Open-ended questions tend to get kids talking more than those that just require a simple yes or no answer. They can be a way to better understand what kids really want to know when they’re asking questions. As hard as it can be, put forth your best effort to limit your questions and let kids guide the discussion so you’re not prying. Trying to gather too much information makes tweens and teens shut down.
Be honest but not hyper-honest
As parents, we will have hard conversations with our kids and Lisa Graham Keegan advises us to be honest. Lisa is a parent of grown children, a former educator, powerhouse of a political consultant who advocates for education reform, and a former Responsibility.org National Advisory Board member whose message of honest parenting resonated with me because of her realistic approach to parenting.
She suggests to “lead with information, not an agenda” to provide our kids with helpful answers that they can use. Parenting requires being honest and also knowing how much to reveal based on the age of your child. It’s important to be honest in an age appropriate way but not feel compelled to be hyper-honest by oversharing in a way that’s over their heads or irrelevant.
Talk to them about important topics when they’re most relaxed
When do your kids open up? Dinner time? Bed time? In the car? Is it different for each kid based on their age?
When my kids were little, one of my favorite parts of my day was bedtime. I’d climb into my daughter’s bed to end our day with a book we’d read together and relished the opportunity to talk. Bedtime always seemed to be a time of reflection for my girl and the time of day when she was most likely to ask questions or share something important.
Every child, regardless of their age, has a time when they’re most relaxed, making conversation flow more easily. Find that time and use it to check in with your kids to spark a conversation.
Take advantage of captive audiences
It might seem like your kids aren’t listening when you’re riding in the car and they’re staring at their mobile device, but they are. Those little kernels of knowledge begin to sink in even if they don’t acknowledge the conversation, so keep talking. They really are listening!
As a former teacher and current parent of middle schoolers, I know that not all the learning that our kids need comes from lessons at school during the year. There is a wide world out there that we’re trying to prepare our kids for. Summer is the perfect time to seize opportunities to open lines of communication to have meaningful conversations that will continue the learning this summer and beyond as we raise confident kids who can navigate social issues, like underage drinking, with smarts.