Question: How can I initiate and maintain a conversation with my child?

Answer: Conversations are the glue that holds people together. It's the connection. One story that touched my heart is about Rabbi Yisrael Meir (haCohen) Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim. One Yom Kippur, after Kol Nidrei, a certain bachelor came to visit the great sage, sat down next to him and began to chat about this and that, the weather, some politics—for hours. Family members and close acquaintances were taken aback at the way the Chofetz Chaim sat and conversed with the man about the most mundane matters on the holiest night of the year.

When at last the guest left, they asked the Chofetz Chaim to explain his actions. "The night of Yom Kippur must be the loneliest day of the year for this individual," said the Chofetz Chaim. "Every other Shabbat or Jewish holiday, he gets invited to the homes of kind people for the Shabbat or holiday meal where he has the opportunity to sit and converse with his hosts and other guests. But on Yom Kippur, since there's no meal, there's no conversation and he must feel very lonely."

In today's frenetic-paced society, when having a leisurely conversation with our children can seem almost like a luxury we can ill afford, the time the great sage took to converse with this lonely man serves as a poignant reminder of its importance.

As parents it's up to us to create a safe, nonjudgmental environment for our children so they feel comfortable to tell us everything and to question us about anything. Be supportive and encouraging, and really listen. Ahavat chinam (unconditional positive regard) is the complete acceptance of another person without evaluating or censoring, and without disapproving of particular feelings, actions, or characteristics. It is a respect for the fact that every human being is created in the image of G‑d, a real appreciation of each individual's intrinsic value rather than behaviors and appearances.

On the other hand, parents often find that children are not responsive to their well meaning intentions. Thus they find themselves hard at work "pulling teeth."

"How was your day?"


"What did you do today?"




"How was recess time?"


How do we add some spice to these bland conversations that aren't going anywhere?

One thought to ask yourself is, "Are you always in the mood for conversation?" You could be tired or hungry; you may feel a need for some peace and quiet. You don't always feel ready to schmooze. Our children don't either.

Some kids never have anything to say until you've finally tucked them into bed at night and then they pipe up as though their little talking machines just got plugged in. For some children it's in the quiet of the night, when the lights are out and they're feeling cozy and warm, that they're ready to talk. For others, it's the early mornings when they're bright and perky and they're bubbling with stories to tell.

Catch their talkative moments.

As I was writing this piece my son came home from an overnight trip and I literally bombarded him with questions. "How was it? Did you have a good time? What did you do there?"

My son looked at me with red, bleary eyes and said, "Mommy, I'll tell you everything soon. But first I want to rest a bit."

And while there are some children who need you to be there for them and their stories the minute they walk through the door, there are other children, quieter souls, who can only open up when there's no eye contact, when you're out taking a walk with them or playing basketball, or while they're absorbed in a relaxing activity such us doing a puzzle.

But what's a parent to do with children who just never have what to say?

Talk about yourself. Tell them about your day, share your ups and downs; model good conversation, so that they will learn to do it, too.

Be patient. Sometimes it can feel like forever before a child gets his story out and we can feel oh so tempted to fill in words or to finish the child's sentence to get him to talk faster. Try to resist that impulse. By listening good-naturedly, and letting the child talk at her own pace, we're conveying to the child that he or she is worthy of our time.

And enjoy. There's no greater gift than a warm, loving relationship – the upshot of warm, loving conversations – with the people who mean the most to us.