Are you asking your kids the wrong questions? Psychiatrist shares what parents should be saying

Are you asking your kids the wrong questions? Psychiatrist shares what parents should be saying
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Many parents struggle with communicating with their children. Sure, we can talk, but getting a meaningful response? That's harder.

On TODAY, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a psychiatrist and founding president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute, gave Hoda and Jenna tips on interacting with their children in a way that encourages conversation and connection.

How can you get kids to open up after school?

"The question, 'How was your day?'— or my husband likes to say, 'What did you learn at school?' — that doesn't necessarily work," said Jenna.

Dr. Koplewicz responded that the reason that those questions don't work because the answer could be, "Nothing," or, "It was OK."

Instead, try asking:

  • "What was the best part of your day today?"

  • "What was the worst part?"

  • "What was really hard?"

"And if that doesn't work, you should also be able to share what was the good part of your day," Dr. Koplewicz continued. "It's not that you have a perfect day or a terrible day, but it goes back and forth."

If your kids aren't in the mood to chat when they first get home from school, "Find another time and make sure they know you're available to talk," he said, whether you share the highs and lows of the day at bedtime or have a quick conversation while you're walking to a baseball game.

How can you get your kids out the door in the mornings?

"Let's say we're trying to get our kids out the door. We can't get the shoes on, and the coat, and you're getting overheated and agitated because you're late," said Hoda.

What you should not do, Dr. Koplewicz said, is ask, "How many times do I have to tell you that?"

Expressing your frustrations simply does not work. Instead, you should:

  • Leave extra time to get out the door in the morning.

  • Prep the shoes, coat and lunch the night before.

  • Break the task down into smaller pieces to make it easier for your kids to get their jobs done.

  • "Catch your kid being good" by thanking them for listening to you or praising them for the good job they did leaving the house.

Shot of a little girl being spoken to sternly at home by her mother (Getty Images)
Shot of a little girl being spoken to sternly at home by her mother (Getty Images)

How can you teach kids basic social skills?

Hoda mentioned that because of cell phones, kids don’t always know how to greet someone.

“They don’t greet. They don’t know how to interact,” she said.

Dr. Koplewicz offered several concrete tips — and none of them include a dry lesson on etiquette.

“It’s actually a fun game when they’re four or five,” he says.

  • Teach kids how to shake hands by showing them that “it’s a puzzle” to get your hands to fit together.

  • Encourage kids to look someone in the eye long enough to tell what color their eyes are.

  • Practice asking new questions like, “Where do you go to school?”

How should parents handle cell phones and social media?

"My daughter is in fifth grade. Kids are already starting to get cell phones," Jenna said. "We're not doing that. But I wonder what you think is best for the kids and social media?"

Dr. Koplewicz urged parents to "protect" kids from social media at ages 10 and below.

"The longer you delay, the better it's going to be," he said.

When Hoda asked about the "right age" to give a child a cell phone, Dr. Koplewicz said that it's difficult for kids at age 13 and up to not have a cell phone. But parents should add "containment" and "structure" to the experience:

  • Start with a flip phone so you can get in touch with your kids when you need to.

  • Hold on to the phone and allow your kids to use it for a set amount of time each day to communicate with their friends, and then take the phone back.

  • Let kids know that you will be monitoring their cell phone use. You wouldn't want them to talk to strangers in real life, and you certainly wouldn't want them to talk to strangers online.

"If you think about the jungle that social media is — there's very delicious fruit in the jungle, but there's snakes also. And until we have some real regulation, parents have to do it," Dr. Koplewicz said. "The number one thing you want to control is time."

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