Millennial (Half) Minute: Need to Ask Your Adult Child a Question? 7 Tips to Help the Conversation Go Well! by Leslie Levine
Many years ago, I read that it’s not always a good idea to ask a teenager questions. Doing so, said the expert, can be interpreted as a judgment and that’s the last thing an adolescent needs. Actually, in some cases, that’s the last thing anyone needs, particularly that adolescent who is now learning to be an independent adult. Yet it’s nearly impossible to express interest in and understanding of your adult child’s life without asking questions. The trick, of course, is to be economical with those questions – no need to rattle off one query after another – and leave plenty of time for active listening.
I used to say to my kids, “Just because you know something doesn’t mean you have to share it.” In other words, it’s OK to keep stuff to yourself (or tell me, I’d say; you won’t get into any trouble telling me…). Similarly, it’s OK as a parent to not know everything, to gather information slowly, over time. As much as we want to get all the information we can on our child’s job search, new girlfriend or housing situation sometimes we just need to just listen and wait. It’s remarkable how much data can come spilling out of your child’s mouth when you practice patience. But when you do ask questions have your kid’s best interests at heart. Some quick tips:
- Ask your question and then simply listen, really listen.
- Try not to interrupt, limit your “uh, huh’s.”
- Resist offering up your take on the situation.
- Release any assumptions about a particular situation. In other words, be open.
- Be curious, too, about your Millennial’s opinions on the matter; don’t simply ask situational questions. Probe a little so that your child knows that his take on the topic is valuable and something from which you can learn.
- Consider your tone as well. The way my day has gone can, unfortunately, seep into the tone of my voice. That’s not a good thing. Or if I’m tired, my tone can sound, well, fatigued and, as a result, uninterested. Clearly, our Millennials can hear when our voices are falsely optimistic, but they can also sense disinterest and, yes, judgment, too.
- Perhaps the most helpful tip I can offer is to ask yourself what feels judgmental, accusatory, insensitive, and, in general, unhelpful when a friend is asking you about a specific situation. Some “why” questions can put us on the defensive immediately. A question with an opinion attached to it isn’t always helpful either.
So, as you seek information from your adult children practice mindfulness, be in the moment, and consider meeting them where they are, not where you want them to be.