When my girls were little, I practiced Stanley Greenspan’s floortime with them as a way to really connect with them in play. Here is a post with the basic guidelines of floortime.
As they got older, there was a gradual shift from floortime to open talk time. In my family, this shift started around 8 years old. Again inspired by Greenspan, open talk time is a way to encourage real conversation with your children. It’s a way to build their trust, for them to learn they really can talk to you about anything.
Like floortime, the goal is 20 minute stretches a few times a week. This is a time when you are fully engaged, really listening and not checking your phone or going up and down to make dinner. In my house, this happens after tuck-ins. Once everyone is in bed for the night, I lay down beside someone and we talk.
It’s fine for your child to lead the topic. It’s good to have positive conversations about things like what they enjoyed over the weekend or what interesting things they are learning about at school. It is equally good to have more difficult conversations about things like what they didn’t like about their summer camp or what they don’t like about you. During the more difficult conversations it is important to listen, reflect, accept and understand. If they are discussing challenges they have within your relationship, you might comment, “yeah, that would be hard if I were my mom.” They are learning you will stay calm, you can listen without judgements. The goal is to avoid any defensiveness, argueing, big opinions or upsets. By all means, if you feel you must weigh in, just give it a day. Come back later and say, “I was thinking about our conversation…”
It was February of Alicen’s eighth grade year. I was making dinner and she was setting the table when she said, “Okay, I have to tell you about this thing that is happening at school because no one is telling their parents.” I sat down. She proceeded to tell me a pretty horrible thing that was happening at school, and while all the students knew and were talking with each other, the teachers and parents were unaware. Usually when the girls tell me things of concern from school, we brainstorm how to best handle it. This time I just said, “You don’t need to worry about this one, I will speak with your principal tomorrow.”
What exactly was happening isn’t the point here. The point is she told me about it. When no one was telling their parents, she felt comfortable to tell me about it. She knew I wouldn’t lose it. There’s no way to be sure, but I feel it’s our open talk time that got us to that point.