When your grandchildren were young, they couldn’t wait to tell you stories about everything! Even the smallest event could be a long and detailed story.
And then, suddenly, it stopped. You didn’t see it coming! “Those poor other grandparents whose grandchildren won’t talk to them!” you thought. And now, your teen (or soon to be teenaged) grandchild has clammed up.
Using stories to get grandchildren talking.
A story has amazing power to connect across the generations. Michael Witkovsky, an accomplished child psychiatrist (and also my son), says “it is more natural for youth to speak in terms of stories than in terms of feelings, evaluations, thoughts and plans.” He acknowledges that while this changes as youth age, sometimes getting them talking is about finding the right place.
Four places to jump-start storytelling.
In the car. (Especially if both listener and speaker are in the front seat.)
“Side-by-side sitting normalizes and democratizes the roles in the story telling,” my son says. It conveys the idea “we are both in this journey together with no active power differential.”
Plus you get the added benefit of helping out your grandchild’s parents (aka your adult children), by offering to help drive to or from practice or other events. Sometimes it’s the “in between times,” not the big events, where connection can happen.
Take a walk.
Taking a walk together is another way to plan for some “side-by-side” time. It allows a grandchild to avoid direct eye contact, which my son says can be “misconstrued as a threat (more likely with boys) or a criticism (more likely with girls.)”
At a restaurant or the kitchen table
If you get a chance to share a meal or a beverage together, sit kitty-corner rather than across from each other. Do it even if that means forgoing the booth in favor of a table. Strategically, that allows for selective use of direct eye contact. Plus “food is nurturing and encourages intimate conversation,” Michael adds.
Doing “chores” together.
Think of things like washing the car, cooking, or grocery shopping together. The car washing can inspire fun play; cooking has the reward of sharing something delicious when it’s ready. Grocery shopping allows for car time (see #1) on the way to and from the store. Plus it’s a fun way to see what your grandchild likes these days.
Say “Tell me a story about…”
No matter where you are, forego the traditional “how are you?” or “how was school?” And never ask “what did you learn in school today? These questions most often elicit a one word response. Try “tell me a story about school today.”
What works for you? Where do you have your best conversations with your grandchild?