REALITY CHECK: Does trying to get your kids to open up about their day feel like an inquisition? Do you feel like you’re giving your kid the third degree to tell you anything about their life? If so, studies show that using different communication techniques can help kids open up and share more about their life.
You: “What did you learn today?” Kid: “Nothing”
You: “Do you have any homework? Kid: Nope
You: “Did you make a new friend?” Kid: Yep
If this sounds at all familiar, don’t despair. There are ways to get children to talk about their school day and even give us a clue as to what’s going on in their world. The trick is to use a few different communication strategies. Find ones that work best for you and your kid and then practice the same one over and over until they become second nature. Also: expect only a gradual opening up–never an over-night change.
Here are a few parenting solutions to get kids to talk about school a bit more openly.
Wait at least a half an hour. Kids are generally drained and strained the moment they walk in door. So it’s the worst time to start giving the third degree: “How was school?” “How was the test?” “Do you like the teacher?” Wait at least 30 minutes to start talking about school. Give your child a chance to decompress and have a snack, take off the backpack, and just breathe.
Don’t turn questions into a third degree. Think of how your best friend asks you about your day. What would make you want to open up and tell her all those details? The same rules apply to kids. Big kid turn offs: pushing, prodding, demanding, coaxing,lecturing and threatening. Make sure you are relaxed and appear genuinely interested when you speak to your child.
Ask questions that require more than yes or no. How we pose our questions can be a set up for immediate failure. Examples: “Do you have homework?” “Did you eat all your homework?” “Did you give your speech?” Your child only has to answer with a yes or no response so you’re automatically doomed. The same applies to questions that require only a one-word response. Pose questions that require your child to respond with more than just yes, no, nope, sure, nothing.
Don’t use the same questions. Kids say a big turn off is when parents ask the same “How was your day?” “What did you do today?” type questions each and everyday. Kids have told me: “My mom really doesn’t care about what I do.” “I know what she’s going to ask as soon as I walk in.” “She isn’t listening.” So be creative. Churn up those questions so your kid knows you are interested!
Stop and listen. The second your child utters ANYTHING related to school, stop what you’re doing and focus. Don’t push. Just turn, appear interested, and nod. Teens say they hate it when they talk and their parents are multi-tasking. “She really isn’t listening.” “It makes me feel like his newspaper is more important than me.” Your goal is to catch any little nugget of information your kid says and make it seem as though it’s a gold mine by stopping what you’re doing and giving your kid your full presence.
Stretch conversation with “invitation openers.” If and when your child shares a detail try using the “stretching method.” Don’t push or prod but instead use these type of comments: “Really?” “Uh huh?” “I don’t believe it!” “Wow!” They’re not threatening and invite a talker to open up.
Repeat talk portions. Try repeating bits of your child’s conversation: Child: “I had a hot dog.” You: “You had a hot dog…” Child: “I played on the swing.” You: “You played on the swing.” The trick is to repeat the tidbit in a matter-of-fact but interested way. Doing so often helps the child open up and add more.
Make your house kid-friendly. Many parents swear they find out more about school from their kids’ friends than from their own child. So invite your child’s friends over. Keep the fridge stocked with food. Serve snacks. Set up a basketball court (or whatever you need to keep those kids at your house). And then be friendly (but not intrusive) to the friend. You may find that not only do the friends open up more, but your child will tag onto the friend’s conversation.
Get into your kid’s zone. Boys as well as more timid, sensitive kids are often threatened with the “let’s sit down and chat about the day” routine. A counseling tip is to talk sitting side to side instead of face to face (which is less threatening) or talk while doing something the child enjoys (shooting baskets, eating ice cream, drawing, or building Legoes). Find out when and where your kids are most comfortable talking and use those as jump off points to get the conversation rolling about the school day.
Put yourself into the mix. My girlfriend vowed to turn her kids’ “Nope.” “Yep. “Nothing!” type comments around. The one thing she said finally did the trick was to share her own day . She waited until everyone was relaxed and used the family meal as a time to review everyone’s day. She always began by describing her experiences using a natural conversational tone. It took awhile but pretty soon her kids looked forward to her descriptions and began to open up about their own days.
This article is excerpted from Michele Borba’s book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) available for order now:
Follow Michele Borba on twitter @micheleborba or on her daily blog at https://www.micheleborba.com