How to Get Kids to Talk


Are you able to get your kids to talk? Do they open up without too much prodding and love to give you every minute detail of their life. If this is your child, count your blessings – this article isn’t for you!


If you have a child that makes you feel like you are interrogating them every time you ask them a simple question – read on.


With “I don’t know” and one word answers – conversations with these children can come to a crashing halt before they ever really begin.

[Click here to listen to the podcast episode on this topic]

Do you struggle to get your kids to talk? Learn trade secrets from a child therapist.

When you talk to children for a living – like I do – this issue can be magnified ten fold. Hour after hour, shrug after shrug, you slowly develop mad skills on how to get kids to talk. And even then – it doesn’t work all of the time. If a child really doesn’t want to open up – no amount of prodding will help.


With that said, I have found that many children want to talk, but we inadvertently shut them down. We sometimes add our own unsolicited advice, move into lecture mode or relate the conversation back to our own experiences. For some kids this is a conversation killer.


So what gets kids to talk? Some very simple tweaks in how we speak to them. These suggestions may seem simplistic and insignificant, but trust me – I have sat through hours and hours and hours and hours of therapy sessions with kids – and these small changes in how I talk to them – make a HUGE difference.

Here are a few:


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Listen and hold your tongue.


Kids want to be heard. They want to be understood. If we rush in to give our two cents – they aren’t going to feel heard or understood. Bite your tongue – literally if you have to. This simple and obvious skill took me a long time to master.


Silence is uncomfortable. I would ask a child a question and would then squirm in the silence.


In my younger days I would rush in to help them with an answer – or elaborate on my question – anything to avoid sitting in the silence.


What I have learned is that some kids don’t verbalize their feelings quickly. When I nod and show them I am listening – kids continue to talk. They continue to tell me more.


Do not give advice – unless it is wanted.

The number one complaint I hear from kids (my own included!) is that they do not want our advice. Well that’s confusing? Your daughter cries to you about her friend drama or your son talks about the mean kids on the bus. You naturally move in with your words of wisdom.


What’s wrong with that? Frankly, I don’t know. But, what I do know is that kids don’t usually like it.


Sit with their feelings for a bit. Commiserate about how that must have made them feel. You will get more out of them and they are more likely to continue elaborating on the issue. Sentences like, “That must have been so hard” or “That must have made you so angry” will help continue the conversation.


When your child is done venting ask them, “What do you think you’ll do about it?” Hear what they have to say. If you have advice at this point, soften it with something like, “there might be another option. You can…” This will help your child feel like you are working with them and not lecturing them.


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I have discussed this with my tween daughter and we have agreed that she will specifically ask for my advice – when she wants it. This has helped our relationship, as I am sure I was driving her crazy in our early years. The curse of having a child therapist as a mom.


How you word things can be the small change that makes a big difference.


Okay – you are not going to be wowed by this next part. But trust me – simply changing how you ask questions can make or break your conversation. This is a tried-and-true theory based on thousands of painful therapy sessions in my early years.


Do not ask direct questions – instead say something like, “I wonder…” In front of your sentence. For instance:

Your son tells you he is angry at his best friend and he is never going to talk to him again. Instead of saying:


“What did he do to you?”

You state:

“Wow, you seem so angry. I wonder what he did to you?”


Sounds pretty much the same – I know. But, trust me – it makes a difference. Most kids (not all) are more likely to answer the second question. Especially if you stay silent after making the comment.


Okay – here is some more of my verbal judo that will seem less than impressive.


Change sentences like:
“What is good about it?” or “What is bad about it?”


 “What is the best part about it?” or “What is the worst part about it?”


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For some reason – the first sentence can sound accusatory or judgmental, while the second is acknowledging the feeling and asking for them to elaborate. I know – what’s the difference – but there is one. Trust me.


I also alter questions like, “What do you like about it” to “What’s the best part about it” or conversely “What do you not like about it” to “What is the worst part about it?” Again, the second sentences sound better to kids and they are more likely to answer them.


Every child is different. Every conversation is different. If you are looking to improve your conversation with your child or the children you work with – try these simple, but effective tweaks in your conversation.


Do you have some verbal judo that works for your kids or the kids you work with? Share them in the comments. This old dog would love to learn some new tricks!

Do you know someone who struggles to get their kids to talk? Share this article with them!


Child Therapist's Secrets to Get Your Kids to Listen

Do you know an anxious teen? Give them the only self-help book teens are likely to read:

Finally a teen anxiety book that teens will want to read!

Natasha Daniels is also the author of How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She also has a video course on How to Parent Your Anxious Kids – for all ages.




Visit Anxious Toddlers’s profile on Pinterest.

37 responses to “How to Get Your Kids to Talk: A Child Therapist’s Trade Secrets”

  1. Michelle T says:

    Great tips! And really, when you think about it, we as adults don’t want someone jumping all over us trying to fix us or our problems, so when someone jumps right in with, “You know, you should try…” it makes them sound arrogant and like they don’t care. Not surprising kids feel the same! It surprises me because you can’t really treat them like tiny adults, but in many ways, they want the same things we do.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      I completely agree Michelle! I think this tip speaks to all the relationships – whether it is with our friends, our partners or our kids. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Heather H says:

    I’m going to try the “I wonder” tip – thank you!! It’s great to get advice from someone with so much experience.

  3. Because This… 37th Edition | Sarah On Purpose says:

    […] How to Get Your Kids To Talk: A Child Therapist’s Trade Secrets […]

  4. Mathan Tenney says:

    Thanks for taking time to share these tips with us.

  5. Emily says:

    As an art therapist, having the kids I work with talk about their pictures or characters works wonders! Thanks for these more verbal tricks of the trade.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Great tips! I will be using them with my son and youngest daughter. My middle daughter, she seems to be different. She is always, always saying she wants to talk to me but doesn’t know what to say. I pull every topic and question I can think of. I know she has so much to say but seems tough for her to talk at times…

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Some kids just aren’t verbal communicators – even if they have lots to say. Sometimes art or even fantasy play can reveal more than their words. If she is older – sometimes sharing a journal back and forth helps for those kids that have the words, but feel uncomfortable sharing them. Thanks for visiting Jennifer!

  7. Laura B. says:

    This seems like sound advice. I will definitely be trying these out. As a single mom with twin toddlers, I often feel like there isn’t enough of me to go around and when I have all the responsibility of disciplining, the kids see me as just that instead of a listening mom. Thanks for these conversation tweaks. I’ll be trying them immediately!

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Hi Laura – twins would be hard enough – but doing it alone must be a major challenge! I am glad these might help a super mom like you 🙂

  8. Therapy says:

    Wonderful and really useful tips indeed.Thanks for sharing such a great article.Helpful for teenagers and children.

  9. Leigh says:

    This is so wonderful. It reminds me very much of Brene Brown’s talk on empathy, how we should get down into the hole with a person instead of standing at the top, trying to tell them how to get out. Great advice!

  10. […] I talked about in my article How to Get Your Kids to Talk, you want to avoid asking closed ended questions or questions that lead your […]

  11. Linda says:

    Thanks for the tips, I think they will really help in after school conversations… One tip that works wonders with my youngest daughter (a 4 year old) is talking to her with her teddy bear.. I change my voice… I use his arms to cuddle her and stuff… I just make it came alive… It’s a lot of fun to do and she loves it and even comes asking me if she can talk to her teddy bear… And that I need to give him a voice…It works wonders when when I need her to do something she actually doesn’t want to do ( like brushing her hair or teeth) or when she finds it a bit scary… But I’ll bet you probably know this trick.. 😉

  12. […] How to Get Your Kids to Talk: A Child Therapist's Trade Secrets […]

  13. Vivian Black says:

    I often babysit my niece and nephew, and I think these tips on getting kids to talk are helpful to anyone who regularly takes care of children. The tip to not give advice unless it is wanted is so important; kids, just like adults, want to be heard without being judged or told what to do. The advice to not ask direct questions was also helpful.

  14. […] you need to hash out some issue. This conditions them to dread conversations with their parents. Talk every day to get an idea of what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. Don’t make simple […]

  15. Kelly says:

    I have four sons. I found out that they talked more when the conversation wasn’t face to face. When I felt they had something on their minds I’d figure out a way to get them to run an errand with me that had a fairly long commute. This almost always worked, I think they didn’t feel ‘put on the spot’ when I was busy driving.

  16. Victoria says:

    Great article! We are blended and of course that has its challenges. Especially with conversations. My son is very vocal and is forthcoming with his emotions which is a blessing. However, our middle son (his son, my step son) isn’t, he struggles expressing himself. What I have learned from him when we talk is that he needs a goal, a finish line, an ending to the conversation. So for him when I ask, what his favorite part of his week with his mom was- he usually without fail always says “I can’t remember”, so of course I know he’s avoiding the conversation so I say “hmmmm, let’s think of 3 things from your week with Mommy” and sometimes I’ll change it to 2, or 4 or even 1 if he’s having a rough day. But when he hears how many we are going to talk about he is excited, quick to respond, and now has a goal in mind. It has helped our communication immensely. He doesn’t complain, doesn’t sit in silence, he’s now enjoying the “game” if you will of how many he has to come up with. He’s only 5, so it’s a strategy that is working for his age right now to help him grow into a confident communicator and hopefully in time will realize, no matter what he says – we can handle it 🙂

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      What a great tip Victoria! I love that idea and can see where that would be very effective. He is lucky to have you 🙂

  17. Rosanne Araneta says:


    Instead of asking kids, “How was your day?” or “How was school today?” — which seems such an umbrella type of interrogation as it may pressure kids to review eight hours of ups and downs — I usually break down questions to different parts of their day.


    Who sat beside you during recess?
    How did you feel after your spelling quiz?
    What Circle Time songs did you like singing today?
    Was your teacher cheerful or grumpy this morning?
    [Knowing two stamps on the back of her hand means 1) Good work and 2) Good behavior] Why do you think your Teacher gave you just one stamp today?

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Hi Rosanne – you bring up a great tip! I agree – asking kids specific questions about their day can be less overwhelming and easier to answer. You gave some great examples that other parents can de finely use. Thank you!

  18. Quality conversations with your child - Sean & Karin says:

    […] here for this expert’s tips to keep the conversation with your child […]

  19. Peter says:

    Best advice I had on talking to boys was make sure they have a ball to play with while you’re doing it

  20. Elaine says:

    Thank you! I will try this with my 8-year-old son. He will often let on that something is bothering him, but the moment I ask him about it, he immediately says “never mind” or “nothing” and clams up. For example, this morning he was pouting on the way to school and said “I can’t believe they’re making me sing in front of an audience”. When I asked him what he was talking about, he absolutely refused to say anything else. He wouldn’t even say who is “they”. So frustrating! I will try the more indirect “I wonder…” route, refrain from trying to offer advice if he says anything, and see what happens.

  21. Leah says:

    Hi have a step son that is 9 years old. He always seems so angry. Hi. And his brother are going g through a hard time right now with their Biological mother saying bad things about their father and me. They are noticing that she is continuously lying to them about us. The 9 year old is the only one that seems like he is angry or upset all the time. He is constantly beating up his brother for no reason. My husband and I try to talk to him but he never talks. I will try these techniques and see if it works. He also went through tharepy but he lied his way through it. Are there any other things you would suggest trying? Thank you for your help.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      That’s rough for him 😥. I think the best thing you can do is let him know that it is too bad that his biological mom says mean things, but that you guys won’t bad mouth her.

      It could help to tell him that when people are angry or hurt sometimes they lash out and say mean things. I think it can help if you neutralize your home and don’t add to the back and forth contention, he might feel safe enough to open up?

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