Car rides and conversations with your kids

By Jessica Golba, LSW

Advice from Youth First

Car rides with your kiddos can be the perfect opportunities to have meaningful conversations with them. You'll have their undivided attention, and you can discuss a variety of topics. Since you aren’t looking at them directly, they will be more apt to share.

Keep the radio at a low volume, or let them DJ. You will most likely be vying for attention from devices, music or other kids. When possible, get them one-on-one - even if you are only running an errand to the bank or grocery store. With teens getting their driver’s licenses, ask them to take you!  Most jump at the chance to get driving time.

Here are some tips and ideas for topics to bring up during car rides with them:

  • Ask them about their day and how school is going. Ask open-ended questions. Limit the amount of yes/no questions, or all you will get are yes/no answers.
  • Talk about their hobbies and interests. At first, they may balk at talking about themselves. Keep at it!
  • As if they have they thought about what kind of job they want in the distant future. What about during high school? Talk about your first job with them. I am always pointing out the orchard I first worked at, to the point that my kids can tell the story on their own now.
  • Share stories about your teenage years. If you see the make and model of your first car, you must point it out; that’s the rule. Bonus points for the same color and year!
  • Discuss current events or social issues. Refrain from judging their viewpoints on the issues. Offer your views as an opinion, not fact.
  • Ask fun/silly questions (e.g. If you won the lottery, what would you do? What kind of animal would you want when you are on your own and what would you name it?).
  • Use the time to teach them important life skills, like budgeting or changing a tire. With non-licensed kiddos, explaining how a four-way-stop intersection works; how to parallel park; and how common road courtesy can help them in the future when they are learning to drive.
  • Listen, listen, listen – The weird thing about not asking too many questions is that you will get more answers by remaining silent and letting your child talk. If they are willing to open up about issues they are having, let them. Asking questions can sometimes make a teen feel like they are being judged or didn’t do the right thing because you are questioning them.
  • In general, keep the topics light so that when you have to discuss something more serious, they are already used to listening to you – and hearing what you have to say.
  • When in doubt, really bad Dad jokes will at least get an eye roll. Example: “You know what bugs me? Insect puns.”

Remember, the keys to having great conversations with your kids during car rides is to be a good listener and show genuine interest in what they say. With some effort, car rides with your kids can become some of the best conversations you'll ever have.

Jessica Golba, LSW, serves as Youth First social worker at Annunciation Parish’s Christ the King and Holy Spirit campuses in Evansville.