As a parent educator and mom of two, I experience and listen to lots of parenting struggles. Of the many tips and tools I know, one has been jumping out at me lately: the open-ended conversation.

As parents looking for solutions, we often draw upon wisdom, directions, problem-solving, and even lectures to shape our kids’ behavior.

A more nuanced, a more subtle, a more elegant tool is the open-ended conversation. It isn’t efficient or speedy, but it can be effective and relationship building.

Some of us really overachieving folks might not even know what an open-ended conversation is; it’s a conversation we enter into without any answers or assumptions. WHAT – no answers or assumptions?!

Yes! And there’s more: the open-ended conversation is really many, many conversations.

The parent brings up a topic, asks some questions, listens to the answers and lets it be for a few days (excruciating!). Then the parent circles back around, asks some more questions, waits for more answers, seeks clarification, listens and says, “Thanks for telling me.”

Wait. Is this really a parenting tool?

Yes, it is. And, while it isn’t for every parenting job, I suggest you start experimenting with it.

“You seem really ticked off about chores lately—what chores might be more appealing? What chores do your friends have to do?”
“Oh, you want to stay out until 10:00 on Fridays. Well, tell me, why I should say yes?”
“Why do you think teachers give homework? What’s the benefit to them? What’s the benefit to the student?”
“What careers look interesting to you today?
“What do kids do these days who go to parties and don’t want to drink or smoke? Is there an easy way out for them?”
“Suzanne was so upset when she had to leave the park. Do you think her mother handled it effectively?” 

Remember, our kids have their own private thoughts and ideas and assumptions. Rudolf Dreikurs said it so well: “Their ideas and viewpoints are important, particularly since they act in accordance with them.”

Where might you use the subtle art of the open-ended conversation in your family today?