Find yourself frustrated that your first, second, or third grade kid won’t open up about school? Starting to think that your middle school kid’s school experience is actually boring every minute of the day, all week long? You really think “nothing” happens, ever?
Well, if you’re stuck in a rut trying to extract something from your child about the school day and on the verge of marching into the principal’s office to complain that your kid is being incarcerated each day, it’s time to consider some new strategies at home.
Here’s five things to consider as you strive toward engaging your child around the dinner table—it’s very likely you can do better at one or more of them:
- Question Style: Don’t ask a question that can be answered with one word—nothing, boring, stupid,
no, whatever… Ask open-ended questions or conversation starters that are more focused or time-specific, like “So tell me what things you and other students did at recess today.” “Tell me what the art teacher had everyone do to prepare for the end of that ceramics project you started last week.” “How did the teacher select the science project partners today, and what did you have to do to get started?”
- Tone: Be careful to avoid the officious or stern tone that comes oozing out when you ask “So how was school?” Clear away the judgmental attitude that seeps into such questions as “Do you think you did better on your match quiz today?” Instead, stick to a tone of positive interest and non-judgment by asking questions in an upbeat tone and listening to the answers without interrupting. Also, mix in some more off-the-wall questions, like “What kind of shoes did your teacher wear today, and what color were they?” “I bet somebody forgot something today. Like a lunch, or their homework… tell me what that was like for the student, and how did the teacher handle it?”
- Imagination: Ask about the ideal lunch? Ask about what you wish you could do in computer class? Ask what would happen in class if everyone except for a few students were sick and absent—how would the teacher go about her business? Always asking a child about what actually happened at school is a sure recipe to sink them further into silence and distance. Make the day wrap-up silly and fun sometimes.
- Traditions: Start a family dinnertime tradition, like: “OK, we’re going to do our go-around, and everyone has to share tonight one thing that didn’t go well and one thing that did go well today.” Or, “Let’s each share one thing we didn’t do today that we really wanted to do. Then let’s talk about why that happened.”
- Modeling: The vectors going from the questioner to the responder shouldn’t always be arrows going from the parents to the child. Make conversation balanced so that your child sees that it is natural and enjoyable for everyone to ask questions or share in the day’s experience. With a balanced approach, there is a much greater likelihood that your child will join in on the conversational flow, so vital for creating healthy conditions for the support, validation, safety, and confidence your child will definitely need to succeed in their current grade, and especially setting a supportive foundation of home communication for the adolescent years just around the corner.
Still running out of ideas? Here’s a place to turn to: Download the Talk2Kids app (just 99 cents), which offers a new question to ask your kids every week.
Now here’s one thing I forgot to mention right up front: Be sure to put the phones away and turn off the TV!