"I don't know what to dooooo."
"No, you said 8pm. It's not time for shower--yet!"
At the end of the day, after school and homework, it's easy for you and your kids to all feel tired, even exhausted or overwhelmed. Or maybe you're heading back home after a family visit, and your kids are starting to whine like usual. What do you say?
As a speech pathologist and mom of two kids, I've been there myself. When kids are bored, tired, or just unwinding, they can start to whine. We then respond to the whining with our own upsetness, which can lead to more whining, which leads to nagging, and on and on. But there are some easy ways to break the cycle.
When we’re in “fight or flight” mode, we’re not thinking about our connections, or about building closeness with our kids. We’re only freezing, or trying to resolve an immediate problem. Think of running away from a fire or trying to fight it.
That reaction makes sense, if there really is an emergency. But if there’s not, we can end up feeling constantly stressed, and even more distanced from our kids.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Research tells us that feeling “compassionate love” for your kids—in part by practicing loving and fun activities—can help moms reduce their stress and their stress-induced reactions to their kids. It’s not that you won’t feel stressed, but that these conversational games can calm your kids and you, help them and you relax, and make a more positive environment for you all.
Plus, purposeful conversation has many benefits, in developing your children’s language, reading, and social skills. For example, from daily conversations, kids learn how to understand another person’s meaning. They build vocabulary skills, learn more complex sentence structures, and gain skills in taking another person’s perspective. They even gain a better understanding of others’ feelings.
Especially when many of us are in quarantine or lockdown, or simply have interrupted school, these benefits are huge. Many times, kids don’t want to do a workbook on a weekend or practice their reading—but having conversations is something most kids like doing without even being asked.
Below are four easy and engaging games you can play with your family at the dinner or breakfast table, on car trips, or anywhere you're together, in order to reduce stress and build language skills and connections. Such games—and the connections they bring—are especially important now. We're often feeling stressed, and our kids are too. Our own stress trickles down into the conversations we have.
The best part is, these conversational games don’t put all the work on your plate. Ideally, you’re aiming for a dialogue, where both of you (or all of you) contribute. You can sit back, at least for a while, and just listen.
Invite each member of the family to develop a couple of questions for the others, then ask them in a series of rounds. The questions should be things they actually don't know about the other person, and for which the answers might surprise you. For example: "What is your favorite part of the day, and why?" or "What is your first memory?"
If you're having trouble coming up with questions, try starters like these:
-What is your favorite....?
-What would your mom or dad say if....?
-If you could choose any.....(activity, place, food), what would it be?
Take turns having each person give a statement about likes or preferences. For example, “I love swimming in outdoor pools best” or “My favorite food is sweet potatoes.” Each person responds with a thumbs up for “Yes,” thumbs down for “No,” or thumbs in the middle for “Maybe.” Then have the next person go.
See if you can find statements where you’re really not sure of the answer. Or encourage your kids to make silly or out-there statements, then see if anyone agrees (“If I could swim in a pool made out of Jello, I would.”)
Have fun with that old game of "would you rather." Get creative, thinking of silly, ridiculous, or impossible things. For example, "Would you rather travel down a very dark tunnel, or sail up very high in the sky?"
Ask each person in turn. Then ask why they would rather do one thing over the other--and have them develop questions of their own.
If you're really not feeling like talking, try scrolling through old photos on your computer or phone together. Start with the earliest pictures, or try the "Over the years" function on a tablet or phone.
Stop at the ones that strike your attention or bring up a specific memory. It doesn't have to be a happy one--it can be funny, weird, or just memorable. Then tell a story about the experience, expanding from beyond the picture. Try, for example, "That reminds me of the time Dad tried to go in the zoo tram, but the stroller got stuck."
Or, especially with an older child, invite them to pick a few photos from their phone to show you and talk about. Emphasize that there are many different perspectives on the same event. Especially if you were there, add your own version of events, or ask other family members to do so, then compare. You might be surprised at how differently everyone saw the same experience--and you'll probably learn something new about each of you too.