My recommended New Year’s resolution is talk to your children. No, I mean really talk to them. Out of 24 hours in a day, roughly 6-8 are spent away from your child while you work and/or they are at school. Another 6-8 are spent sleeping. That leaves about eight hours left for you to find the time to have meaningful conversations with your children. 

Authentic conversations between you and your children set the stage for building family values, understanding one another, and maintaining great child-parent bonds. However, authentic conversations in many homes are often replaced by angry directions or stress-filled requests thrown at children — clean your room, do your homework, and stop making all that noise. If this sounds like your home, resolve to create conversations with your children that allow for relationship building, increased reading skills, deep understanding, and investment for future conversations. Below you will find that these benefits are best acquired when you simply capitalize on talk-time with your children. 

Increase reading skills

Studies have shown that parents who take more time and words to explain things to their children rather than shutting them down have children with higher vocabularies. For example, when you take the time to have a conversation about the asparagus your child picked up from the produce stand, instead of saying, “Put that down,” it allows your child the opportunity to ask questions and creates the possibility for you to introduce your child to new words. These opportunities then allow for future conversations where your child can use his/her new vocabulary with others and reinforce what they learn. So take the time to capitalize on moments where conversation can arise instead of stopping conversation dead in its tracks. Leave room in your day to entertain your child’s questions and actions, and let conversation follow.

Establish relationships

Do you remember your first love? If so, think about the number of hours you spent on the phone with him/her and when you couldn’t wait to talk later. Adults use their verbal ability to establish connections with each other. This same ability should be used to establish connection with your children. When you talk to your child, make it as enjoyable as you did with your first love. Ask them questions about their world. Smile when you talk to them, and give them compliments as you share your words. So much of family face-to-face time can be filled with hurried directions, but these moments rarely provide space for deep and meaningful conversation, the kind that creates and maintains significant relationships.

Interests, strengths, and weaknesses

Who are your child’s best friends? What were your child’s latest test scores? Parents often tout how well they know their children, yet many are shocked when they find out that their children are dating unfavorable persons or involved with drugs and alcohol. Precursors to these risks are often found in your children’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses. So get familiar with your child. Asking them questions and inquiring about their day allows you to discover how they normally spend their time, what they do well, and where they fall short. When they respond, remember to listen. Relate to their answer with a similar experience or just thank them for their answer and ask another question. Give their responses weight during conversations instead of shooting them down or one-upping them. This allows them to want to answer your questions instead of running away from them.

Invest in future conversations

Most often, individuals share things with those who care. So if you expect your children to disclose their feelings about difficult topics in the future, plan to invest your time in building a relationship with them now. By creating meaningful conversations today, you lay a foundation that can sustain more challenging conversations tomorrow. For example, the transition from finding out the teen down the street is pregnant to talking with your child about sex can flow naturally if you and your child are in the habit of discussing these things on a regular basis. So put in the time now to invest in positive talk time later. 

Your communication skills influence the relationships around you. Use your verbosity to influence the relationship between you and your children, and reap the benefits of simply sharing a language. 

China Hill is an Austin resident, academic advisor and national certified counselor.