“Pointers for Parents: How to Motivate Family Discussions,” Ensign, Sept. 1972, 85
Julie stayed overnight with her high school classmate, Cindy. It happened to be the night of family home evening. Julie confided to her friend on the way to school the next morning, “I wish I could come to your home evenings instead of ours. Your family has such a good time. At home, if I don’t give the answers my dad wants, he is disappointed and critical. So I just don’t talk.”
Julie’s problem may result from her parents’ lack of skill in motivating a good family discussion. To help parents overcome these difficulties, the following ideas might be useful:
Atmosphere. Absolutely essential to a good family discussion is an atmosphere of love and understanding. Unless a child is helped to feel he is appreciated for his own special qualities, he may feel he has nothing to contribute to a discussion. The best conversations result when family members feel relaxed and comfortable with each other. This informality has its limits, however; nothing is gained when everyone speaks at once and no one is really heard. The other extreme, strict formality, also hampers good discussion.
Effective Questioning. To encourage your child to respond honestly to questions, try to frame the question to give that impression. For example: “In your opinion, John, what … ?” “How do you feel about … ?” “Mary, what has been your experience with … ?”
The simple device of personalizing your question by using the first name helps the child know you are interested in his opinion, and it bolsters his self-confidence.
Of critical importance, once your child has given you his opinion, respect it for what it is—his own opinion. If you disagree, go back and study the question together with open minds. If you show a willingness to learn, your child will appreciate your understanding, and his trust in you will increase.
Listening. Discussion has two parts: asking and listening. Listening with respect cannot be overemphasized. Avoid the temptation to interrupt or to finish sentences for those who are a bit slow in expressing themselves.
Above all, do not choke off the dialogue between you and your children by being critical of their answers. Accept their comments without a show of emotion, except genuine interest. Consider the many conflicting ideas with which your children are bombarded each day. If parents refuse to be good listeners, where can young people go for guidance in sorting out answers to the many perplexing questions of the day?
In many families one or two children may tend to monopolize the time. Parents need to insist on general participation and courtesy.
Clarification. During home evening, questions may be raised that may not appear to be on the main topic. Never be guilty of avoiding the touchy subject; postponement or evasion will not inspire the confidence of your children.
When the discussion seems to get far afield, do not let it close without steering it back to the basic principle. After the many points of view are expressed, it is your responsibility as parents to make clear to your family those principles which are in harmony with the gospel.