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The Long Car Ride

March 01, 2012

If you're willing to insist that your youngsters sometimes unplug themselves for at least 20 minutes while you're in the car together, it's amazing what you can learn about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences — in other words, about their lives.

The long car ride has two advantages over most every other place when it comes to promoting parent-child conversation: (1) our children are captive for the duration of the journey; they can't simply walk out of the room, and (2) we're not face-to-face with one another, feeling intimidated by direct eye contact. Our kids can't easily witness the hint of dismay across our brow when they let slip something we don't like, and we don't have to observe them sneer at our dorky comments or boring questions.

So the next time your child needs a ride across town, make a deal: I'll give you a ride if we can sit quietly and just daydream out the window with no distractions. Once you're in the car and a few boredom-breaking words have been uttered about something on his or her mind, the smart thing to say is: tell me more.* Say it once, twice, again and again if your goal is to find yourself a front row seat to your son or daughter's life. Don't slow the flow of words by prematurely critiquing, fixing, advising, or preaching. There's time for that later, if you need to go there at all. In the meantime, sit back and listen.

*We acknowledge educator Michael Brandwein for proposing the concept he calls TMsquared (Tell Me More), his central principle for encouraging your kids to open up to you.