Father’s Day is a great time to celebrate all the things that dads do well. If your family needs a reminder of what those things are, we handle everything from fixing broken stuff to killing spiders to teaching bike riding. Yes, it’s true, a dad is practically Superman.
But… if there is a kryptonite for us Superdads, it’s that it gets harder and harder to get our kids to share what happened at school today, let alone connect with our kids in a way where they’re willing to share their innermost thoughts and problems with us. However, if we can figure out how to put a man on the moon, it might also be possible to figure out how to better connect with our kids, but only if you’re ultra-strategic about it.
Here are five tricks:
Share their interests
If you’re like me, there was a time in your parenting life when you could bring your kid along to almost any activity you liked and they’d have a great time just because they got to spend time with you. Those were the good old days, weren’t they? (And if you’re still lucky enough to be in them, savor them).
Now, though, many of our children have their own hobbies and interests and little to no interest in spending time with Dad. Well, if you can’t beat them (and trust me, you can’t), join them. Learn to love (or at the very least, tolerate) your child’s interests and share those interests with them. That might mean finishing the entire Call of Duty game on Xbox together or learning and performing the latest TikTok dance together — or even drawing, reading or hiking together. The more time you spend together on their terms, the more time you have to connect with them.
Become a conversational ninja
If conversations with your kid can typically be measured in seconds, you’ll need to up your game by learning all the conversational tricks you can. First, timing is everything. Try striking up a conversation late at night when your kid’s guard is down and their exhaustion level is up. Many children ramble on as the hour gets later.
Alternatively, lie in wait until they’re in a super good mood. For tweens and teens, this may take weeks. Either be patient and wait for that moment, or take things into your own hands and create the good mood by doing something that never fails to cheer them up.
The only way to get a kid to talk with you about the good stuff is when they don’t have to look you in the eye while they’re doing it. So, make sure you strike up a conversation in a location where it’s difficult for them to make eye contact with you, like driving in a car, sitting side by side on a couch, lying in bed staring up at the ceiling or eating at a counter in a restaurant.
Be extra careful once the conversation starts
Once your child does open up to you, don’t make a rookie mistake and lose everything you worked so hard for. Be extra careful with how you react and respond to everything your kid says. The easiest way to do this is to listen as much as you can without talking. And when you do talk, you better make darn sure what you say doesn’t judge them, put them on the defensive or appear as anything other than supportive, because getting this part wrong could set you back months or years.
Walk the walk
You may have noticed by now that your kids tend to ignore most of what you tell them and pay the most attention to what you do. If you want your kids to connect with you, first they have to witness you connecting with them, your partner, a friend and others.
If they see you, for instance, sharing your problems with other people, they’ll see how helpful getting another person’s opinion can be rather than focusing on the embarrassing aspects of being vulnerable and, as a result, remaining overly guarded.
When all else fails… resort to bribery
In general, bribery is not on the list of top 10 parenting tactics. And yet, from time to time, if the end goal is to connect with your child, bribery may be justified.
Figure out your child’s idea of an absolutely perfect day, and then deliver! It could be a huge dinner at their favorite restaurant, shopping at the local mall, a day at an amusement park or simply a movie. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, but it does have to be built around them and whatever it is that excites them.
Happy kids make for a happy Father’s Day.
Marc Fienberg is the author of “Dad’s Great Advice for Teens” and a life coach. For more information, visit www.greatadvicegroup.com.