Parent: "What happened in school today?"
Child: "Nothing" or "Same" or "OK"
How many of us have had this conversation once our child comes home from school? How do we get around this so that we get more information and have a meaningful conversation with our children?
Here are some tips that will help Indian parents.
Give them some time to relax
- Wait for your children to settle down and relax.
- Children walk into the home in different states of mind. They may have come from a lot of activity at school or they may have had a long ride on the school bus and they may just be tired.
- Or they may come into the home expecting to do something - like read that book they got yesterday or play a game.
- Whether they are tired, hungry, or eager to do something, your conversation is keeping them from what they want. So the earlier they cutoff the conversation, they better for them. So you get short answers.
- Let them come home and relax for a bit. Then when their needs are satisfied and they are more relaxed, they will be willing to have a conversation with you.
Ask specific questions
- Often, broad and general questions like "What did you do in school today?" or "How was school today?" will not get a good response from your child.
- Children experience many things every day. It maybe hard for them to remember all of them or to prioritize what is important to you.
- To get the best results, ask something very specific.
- What song did you learn today?
- What did you cover in maths class today?
- Who did you sit next to when eating lunch?
- Did your English teacher ask you any questions today?
- You can also ask questions that address an emotion
- What was the most exciting thing you did in school today?
- What was the funniest moment in school today?
Prepare by exchanging information with other parents
- Here is one way to ask more specific questions - Exchange information with other parents about what happened in school today.
- Share and learn many things that happened.
- For example, you may learn that roles were handed out for the annual school play or that your child was asked to recite a poem in front of the class etc.,
- By exchanging information all of you can prepare yourself better and ask more leading and specific questions that your child can answer clearly.
- However, be very careful about confronting your child with any negative information you get from other parents. For example, you may hear "I heard your son was asked to run around the playground twice for having a fight during sports period".
- If you ask your child about the negative things you heard from the grapevine, your child will quickly figure out that you are talking about them behind their back. And they may get very wary about sharing information with you. As they get older, they may just tell you "Well, you are going to find out anyway by asking others. So why should I tell you?".
- If you develop a trusting relationship with your child, they will automatically confide in you (maybe not immediately but eventually they will). If you break the trust, they will clam up and it will become very difficult to get them to converse.
- Use the negative information, only if the issue is very serious and needs your immediate intervention.
Share your day with them and have a two-way conversation
- Do not have a one-way conversation which appears to the child as an interrogation.
- Tell them about what happened to you - where you went, what you did, what you saw etc., It will help them understand that you are sharing together. It will get them to open up and talk to you.
- Of course, the older they get, the less interested they will be in how your day went!!
Don't focus only on performance
- If you ask a child only questions focused on performance - "How many words did you get right in dictation?", "How many sums did you do in maths class?" - your child could get very stressed out and anxious when she comes home. She maybe dreading revealing to you what she accomplished, lest you think it was not enough.
- Of course, you can ask these questions. But mix them in with others that are qualitative and focus on what the child did, not just how well she did. Ask her if she made new friends, or if she enjoyed her lunch etc.,
- Sometimes you have just have to let it go. Nothing may work and you may get only monosyllables. However, do not let this be the norm.
- You also need to assess if you are letting your child have enough privacy to himself or herself. As they get older, they need more privacy and the ability to keep things to themselves. In those times, you need to show them that you are available for them to talk to, if they feel the need to. Don't pry.