5 Tips for Talking With Your Neurospicy Kid

Moving past ‘Fine’ to meaningful conversations

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Kids and parenting

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I’ve got two bonus teens and there’s one mistake I keep making with them every single day (I’ll learn… eventually!): I keep asking them about their day. Every day when they get home from school, drop their school bag on the living room floor and pour themselves a soda, I inevitably ask: “How was your day at school?” And, just as inevitably, I always get the same answer: “Fine”. (And no, asking further doesn’t usually yield anything except for their annoyance). It’s like the most boring ritual ever. In fact, I’m convinced by now it’s pretty much symbolic.

Luckily, there are better ways to find out how my kids – or your kids – really are. Comparing notes through the years, I’ve also found some of these challenges are typical for neurodivergent kids. So here’s my 5 top tips for having an actual conversation with your (neurodivergent) kid in a way you will BOTH enjoy.
(Disclaimer: neurodivergence is not a one-size fits all. It’s a giant umbrella, really. So do adapt the tips below to your unique kid!)

Tip #1: Focus on something else

Try having a conversation without it being your focus. Instead, focus on some other activity and let the conversation occur naturally. I first discovered this works back when I would pick up the kids from their primary school by car. I’d be focused on driving and this created a less-intense, safer space for them to open up. Part of the reason is the lack of eye-contact. Another is that the focus on other things keeps you from overthinking every word and getting distracted from the conversation. Now that the kids are older and make their own way to school and back, we create other activities. Cooking and/or baking works really well. I would imagine DYI projects or gardening would also be a good fit.

Tip #2: Be specific

Many neurodivergent kids struggle with vague questions. So get as specific as you possibly can. “What did you do in school?” is super vague because there’s so much going on every single day. While neurotypicals often just pick out the most interesting parts of their day, for a neurosparkly kid, a question this broad might be overwhelming. Focusing on a specific time (“What did your lunch break look like?”) helps the kid gain some focus and come up with a meaningful answer.

Tip #3: Brace yourself… for questions

Whatever conversation you have, many neurospicy kids want to get to the bottom of things. They might ask you about the meaning of certain words you used, or even launch a debate on something you said. For neurodivergent kids, questioning you – whether directly or indirectly – is not a sign of disrespect. It’s a way to make sense of the world and build their mental model. Try to avoid saying things like “You know perfectly well what I mean”. Odds are, they don’t (even if it’s obvious to you). Patience will pay off.

Tip #4: Give them time

Neurodivergent kids, no matter how smart, often need more time to process what is said. This is extra important in emotional topics. It might take them minutes to come up with an answer. Again, don’t get impatient. Give them time to process what is said, their thoughts and their feelings on the topic. (This is another good reason why simultaneously doing some activity is a great idea – you can keep doing whatever it is you’re doing while the kid is thinking).

Tip #5: Take a break

Sometimes, conversations can get overwhelming. This is especially true if your neurodivergent kid is feeling touched or experiences shame or guilt. If you notice your kid withdrawing and disengaging, taking a break can be a big help. If needed, you can return to the conversation later. Depending on your kid’s age and self-awareness, you might either choose to gently end the conversation or ask them: “Would you prefer us to continue this talk some other time?”

What tip am I missing? Please share yours on our IG! Want to have even deeper conversations with your kids? We’re soon launching a new card deck that will help you do just that!

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