An emotionally safe parent is a parent who pursues her child’s heart. If we don’t talk to our kids as toddlers, we can’t expect them to talk to us as teenagers.
The reality hit me this past weekend how uncomplicated it is to be an emotionally safe parent.
While speaking in Michigan, I had a dad—who is also a children’s pastor—thank me afterwards for a comment he heard me make a few months prior at an event at his church.
“Josh,” he said, “I want to thank you for telling us to ask our kids their favorite part of the day when we tuck them in at night. Our three-year-old son is not only talking more, he is also beginning to pray aloud on his own about events in his day.”
Outwardly, I smiled widely and nodded my head in excitement. Inwardly, I was trying to remember when I even suggested this.
He finished, “It has made such a huge impact on how well we relate to him. So thank you.”
No sir, thank you. Thank you for helping me put aside the lofty ideas I think are important, to discover what’s most meaningful for each of us as everyday parents.
As I lay in bed last night with my three-year-old son, we talked about his day. Selfishly hoping his favorite part was playing baseball with me in the backyard, I learned it was swinging with the neighbor girl a few doors down.
Now you see why it’s important to have the inside track on your child’s heart. The neighbor girl over baseball—already?
No matter the age of your child—from toddler to teenager—we can capitalize on the most emotionally open part of their day—right before bedtime.
Whether we’re lying with our toddler or child, or sitting on the edge of the bed with our teenager, those 5-10 minutes before bed—with no other distractions—are ripe for getting to know what’s really going on inside our child’s heart.
Oh yeah, and if you’ve been a parent—for at least, say, one day—you know not all bedtimes are created equal. So don’t beat yourself up if you have to forfeit from time to time. We sure have to.
Here are 15 conversation starters for any age:
1. What was the most favorite part of your day?
2. Who did you play (hang out) with today at school?
3. What was the most favorite part of school today?
4. What didn’t you enjoy about school today?
5. What do you want to thank God for tonight?
6. What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
7. What game, toy, or activity would you most like to do with me tomorrow? (Be sure to follow through).
8. What would you like to talk about tonight?
9. Did I do anything today to hurt your feelings? (Be sure to tell your child you’re sorry. Seeking the forgiveness of your child about a specific offense is critical to emotional safety).
10. Is there anything that scared you today or that you’re afraid of happening?
11. Is there anything that made you angry today?
12. When did you feel most alone today?
13. What was the most difficult thing you had to deal with today? Homework? A rude person? Or you were disappointed about something? How did you get through it?
14. Share one thing you know now that you didn’t know when you woke up this morning. How did you learn this?
15. With all of the current events happening in the world, what most confuses you?
Most importantly, before you exit the room for the night, be sure your child or teenager hears the words, “I’m proud of you.”
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and president and co-founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. He wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.
For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.