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As I discussed in my last column, having effective and meaningful discussions with your child is a learning process and it takes some practice. The good news is that after a while, it can become almost automatic. These skills will serve you well throughout your child's development. They are particularly helpful during the adolescent years when discussions are usually more difficult to manage. Hint: Good communication skills also work great with adults.

A wonderful place to practice and learn these discussion skills is to utilize children's stories. Reading to/with your child also provides a strong bonding experience.  

I would strongly suggest that you read Part 1 of this series that was published last week before you proceed. You will need to know and understand the basics that were presented in that article to get the maximum benefit from these suggestions.    

First of all, select a book or story that has something in it that can be discussed. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Most children's books are basically cute images with little or no substance. Read the book yourself first and then ask yourself – "Is there anything in this story that I could really discuss?" If the answer is no – then choose another book.  

For example, The Ugly Duckling would provide much more fertile ground for discussion than a story that has cute little animals running around and singing songs for no apparent reason.  Avoid the "Superhero" nonsense which falls into the same category and usually has an underlying theme of problem solving with violence.

Ready? Now that you have read Part 1, you should know to relax, minimize height differences, lean a bit forward, encourage your child's responses, watch facial expressions, use open-ended questions, give your child your undivided attention, and remember to smile.  

Here are some excerpts taken from the Parent Discussion Guide in the Seamus the Sheltie books that specifically address getting the child comfortable with sharing and expressing their feelings and thoughts.  You and the child should be comfortable with this process before beginning any serious discussions of the issues and values contained in the story.

Begin with some general opening questions. Some examples of these opening questions might be;
- "I really liked that story ..... Did you like it too?"
- "That dog sure is smart isn't he?"
- "That dog is really funny isn't he?"

Sometimes you may get just "yes" or "no" answers. If that happens, try questions that cannot be answered that way such as;
- "What did you like best about that story?"
- "What was your favorite part of that story?"

If the child is still reluctant to talk at this point, there is another approach that you can try when the child is still in the midst of the story. To use this technique, you simply pause in the story at a point when something is just about to happen – or has just happened – and ask a leading question. These questions might be ones like "wow – what do you think is going to happen" – or "that sure was a good ........ Wasn't it?"

Remember that the purpose here is not to have a long discussion but rather to just get the child comfortable in talking about the story. Above all, remember to have fun yourself. The very best way to involve your child in these discussions is for the child to see you having fun and enjoying yourself.  

I hope that you have found some of this information helpful. Well trained professionals that deal with children use these techniques and approaches all of the time to help discern how a child really feels about certain issues and problems – to help the child feel safe in expressing their feelings - and to build trust.

These simple-sounding techniques are powerful and when they are done properly, they do work.  

If you practice some of these techniques, you will lay the foundation for having great discussions with your child - or making your already good discussions even better.

**James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting


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