When our children are in daycare and even preschool, we often get reports about what they did during the day. Some programs even send daily pictures. And, as parents, it is both comforting and helpful. We can ask our children specific questions about their day, and engage in conversation about the song they learned, or activity they did. And then, usually with Kindergarten, the conversation changes.
The question of, “What did you do today,” is often met with, “Nothing,” or even just a shoulder shrug. Many parents find it difficult to engage their children in conversation and stay connected to what is going on in school. And it is not just limited to teenagers!
Having regular conversations help children know that you care about what is going on in their lives. Even though they may seem reluctant to talk, it is important to try. And, with a few simple strategies, you may find your children begin to open up.
1) Ask specific questions
Rather than asking open-ended questions like, “How was your day,?” try asking specific questions such as, “What was your favorite part of the day,” or “What was one good thing that happened, and one not-so-good thing that happened?” These types of questions often invite further discussion and can even present some great learning opportunities.
2) Set an example
If your spouse asks “How was your day,” do you often just say, “Fine”? During dinner, consider engaging each other in conversation and leading by example. When children hear you say, “I had a good day because…,” or “I had a challenging day because I made a mistake…,” it can be powerful for them to hear that mom or dad experience ups and downs as well.
3) Find the right time
Even adults aren’t ready to answer questions about their day the minute they walk through the door at night. While it may be tempting to ask, let your child unwind a bit before trying to engage him or her in conversation. Perhaps during dinner, or at night before bed may be the best times. One parent of a teenager shared that her daughter seems to open up whenever they’re driving in the car. Consequently, the mom makes a point of inviting the daughter along to run errands and will even chose stores a distance away just to give more time for conversation. You may notice similar things about your children. Perhaps your child tends to open up a bit more at bedtime, when the lights are low and the pace is more relaxed. Pay attention, and try to create the opportunity as often as you can.
4) Show that you are listening
We get frustrated trying to talk to children when they have a mobile phone in front of them, or are watching television. But, as parents, we can be just as guilty of having distractions. When we want to engage in conversation, make sure the distractions are all put away. Make eye contact and show you are paying attention through your body language as well as your words.
5) Try not to solve problems
If your child says something like, “I hate school,” or, “I don’t like my little brother,” it can be tempting to say, “You don’t mean that.” But that can make it seem like you don’t care about how he or she really feels. Try instead to acknowledge the feelings by saying something like, “I understand.” And then give him a chance to explain by asking, “What do you hate about it,” or “What makes you say that?” You may find that something happened at school, or your child is feeling a little left out because a younger sibling is getting a lot of attention. Whatever the cause, giving your child a chance to explain is far more beneficial than trying to solve the problem for him.
As our children grow and become more independent, it can be hard to make the transition as a parent. Sometimes it can seem like the only time we find things out is when there is a problem. But, continuing to try and engage children in conversation helps create a sense of security and can strengthen your relationship as they grow.
What’s your biggest parenting challenge right now?