August 28th, 2019

Connecting with your kids: don't ask with how was your day?...

Your kids are about to start a new school year, maybe at a new school, maybe for the first time. No doubt you have lots of hopes for them. You want them to do their best, to thrive in the classroom and on the sporting fields, or in the art or music room and also in the playground with friends. You want them to try new things and find activities to throw themselves into with passion. You may hope that they’ll find a vocation which they’ll pursue throughout life, something that will bring them joy and sense of fulfilment.  Above all you want them to be happy.

When kids go to school they enter into a world in which we parents cannot take part. Oh sure, we can and should be interested in what they’re doing but it’s their world. We can, and should, support from the sidelines, but they are the players on the field.

All parents want to know that their children are doing well and have had a happy day. So we ask them: How was your day? Enquiring after their day is so much better than not caring, being too engrossed in our own world, our emails, our texts and our to-do lists, our adult concerns, to connect with theirs at the end of the day. Connection is important.

But if you’ve ever asked your child that question How was your day? You may have felt dissatisfied with the answer. You may have felt it didn’t give much connection. It’s just a ritual that you go through. Every parent knows that the answer to How was your day? is ‘fine’. And the answers to follow up questions what did you learn? and what did you have for lunch? are nothing and I forget respectively, or interchangeably. Sometimes we ask the supplementary question who did you play with?

Don’t kids want to tell us about their lives? Well sometimes, no.

  • For many children who live in the present it is hard to remember what happened earlier in the day. They’re happy, but that was then, this is now.
  • Sometimes they want to keep their school life separate from their home life. That’s their private world.
  • Sometimes they won’t tell us what has happened because they are afraid of our reaction. They may fear our judgment or our involvement. If they tell us that Freddie teased them about wearing ‘girls’ shoes’ and they fear that we will ring Freddie’s mum up and blast her then they may keep it to themselves. They won’t tell us that Mrs Winter was cross with them if they anticipate being cross-examined about what they did that caused her to be angry. They won’t tell us that Robert and Sanjiv had their phones confiscated for accessing inappropriate content because they fear that will mean a crackdown on screen use at home.
  • Sometimes they won’t tell us what has happened because they anticipate a lack of reaction. They might feel that there’s no point in telling us about the girls who teased them about their glasses if we just say that’s silly, your glasses are perfectly nice and you need them to see. Just ignore those girls.
  • Sometimes they won’t tell us about things that are troubling them because they just don’t have the words. They can’t articulate what they are feeling. You may know that something is up because of their behaviour. They may be withdrawn or may react with aggressive or rude behaviour. The trick is not to be fooled into just having a knee jerk reaction to the behaviour –you need to consider what’s behind it. It probably won’t work to ask them why they are behaving like that or even to say ‘what’s up?’ What works is to take an educated guess –you can see that something is troubling them. Put that into words. Describe how you think they are feeling. For you to talk to me like that tells me that something is bothering you. When I came in I could see from your face that you weren’t happy and then I asked you to pick up your school bag and that triggered something in you. I’m wondering if something happened at school today….

We need to listen to what they say without judgment, without lots of questions that imply failure, and without dismissing their concerns. We need to acknowledge and validate their feelings. We can’t take away all our children’s worries and it’s not our job to do so but we can help them to manage their feelings. If our children are talking to us we need to make time to listen (which isn’t always easy in our busy lives) and let them know through our words and body language that we are really paying attention. If they’re not talking we need to supply the words. I’m wondering if you felt a bit jealous when Taylor got that commendation in assembly; Maybe you felt left out when Jacob invited Raoul to go to his house; I sense that you’re a bit anxious about your piano exam; I guess it can be a bit irritating to have to include your younger brother in your game. You wish you could just play on your own; you’re a boy who likes to check things out first before you do something so you’re not sure about getting in the water just yet. Would you like to watch the others first and then get in? What do you need to make yourself feel safe?

But as well as encouraging them to share problems we want to know about the good things in our children’s lives.

Being interested in your child’s life shows you are a good parent. But you need better questions if you’re going to be able to make real connections. Instead of How was your day? , try asking them, “What was the best thing that happened today?”

Curiosity fuels connection.

Posted in: Communication , Talking

 

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