How can parents create an open environment for children to talk?

Getting children to open up about their lives on and offline can be challenging as they grow up. To help you get them to talk, our experts offer advice to help you do just that.


Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is ‘how do I get my child to talk and open up to me’. It’s a hard because as your child gets older all those barriers to a discussion like self-awareness, wanting to seem self-sufficient and being more mindful of their own privacy begin to arise. That doesn’t mean that communication is impossible, you just need to approach your child in a way that makes them feel, safe, heard and respected- here are the 3 things you need to keep in mind:

Choose the right Time: Start a conversation when you are due to spend some time together, like over a meal, during their bedtime routine or when you’re driving in the car.  They are more inclined to speak when they aren’t distracted and feel comfortable doing something familiar with you.

Ask Open Ended Questions: Get into the habit of asking more open-ended questions- something like “what was the best and worst thing about your day?’ this will focus your child’s mind and elicit a more thoughtful, meaningful response.

Don’t Force a Conversation- and really listen: Create a safe space for your child and ensure that you listen with the intent to understand. The mistake many parents make is that they listen with the intent to respond- your goal should be to listen more than you speak.  While it’s not always easy to interject,  jump to conclusions or give advice, it’s only through active listening that you’ll really hear what is going on in your child’s life.

Martha Evans

National Coordinator, Anti-bullying Alliance
Expert Website

Is it right to monitor my child’s phone without their knowledge?

To spy or not to spy? It’s the age-old question that many parents ask themselves when thinking about their online safety. On one hand, you want to keep your child safe but, on the other, you don’t want to lose their trust or make them not share with you. The answer is not simple.

Depending on their age (younger children should have their online activity supervised) and unless you have reason to suspect they or others are at risk of harm – for example, they are talking to a dangerous person or they are sexting (sending someone sexually explicit images or messages) – then we would advise not to snoop on their private messages. If found out, this could mean that your child chooses not to share with you and hides their online activity. Instead, we would advise:

– Have open communication about their online activity

– Reassure them they can come to you if they are worried about anything they see online

– Keep up to date with the new technological trends and fashions

– Agree together clear boundaries, for example, turning the Wi-Fi off by bedtime

Catherine Knibbs

Child Trauma therapist, Peer Support Yorkshire
Expert Website

Why do children tend to share less and less with their parents as they get older?

Parent: “What did you do at school today?”

Average replies of children (aged 7+) are as follows: “nothing”, “Dunno”, “not much”, “can’t remember”

Parent is now feeling frustrated and rejected. Sound familiar?

The way in which a child’s brain develops means they often lose the capacity to express themselves with words or even remember what they did that day (at school).

This is quite normal and shows the maturation of certain brain areas, though often this accompanies the phrase “I forgot” that echoes throughout the adolescence period (it is actually quite a fact!)

So how do you elicit a response that will encourage expansion? Well, You ask an open question.

You might be wondering what one of those is and why use one?

Well, It is a question that generates a ‘thinking moment’ and encourages the frontal part of the brain to work with the lower parts of the brain and put a story to the events of that day. It’s a question that cannot be answered by one-word answers.

To help you think about this some more, consider what they might want to tell you and ask a question around that.

Hereon lies the secret…

Be genuinely interested and ask when you have time to listen to the answer. Children really need to be heard and validated and this is a simple way to begin this process.

Dr Tamasine Preece

Head of Personal and Social Education
Expert Website

The teenage years are by nature, challenging and transformative, giving young people the opportunity to explore their sense of self and values as they approach adulthood.

Also, it’s a time when they are developing the skills that will enable them to navigate the complex adult world. In order to do so, it is important that ideas and identity are explored and expressed in safe and appropriate contexts, even if they later look back in embarrassment and horror at their teenage self, as many adults do.

Social media behaviours such as recording the minutiae of the adolescent world disrupt this important life stage in terms of making what should be fleeting permanent. We talk to children about the impact on future reputation and career but don’t make explicit the fact that children are denying themselves and others the right to make mistakes as part of the growing up process.

Through engagement with the Code of Conduct, children and young people are able to reflect on the community and wider world to which they would like to belong as well as the person that they would like to be, on and offline, now and in the future.

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