Ask them after school how their day was and you’ll most probably get a single word answer – ‘Good’. It doesn’t quite let you know everything that has happened the four to five hours that you were not with them.
Communicating with your child is very important and in our increasingly busy schedules it’s easy to accept that one word answer and come to the conclusion that his or her day was okay. It’s not just some teenagers that withdraw from communication. Younger children too at times do not communicate properly. Below are some of the reasons why younger children may not communicate properly:
- They have not yet developed the proper vocabulary to express events or their feelings.
- Younger children do not understand the importance of communication. More often than not they are not aware that they need to actually tell their parents that a particular situation took place.
- Kids can be tired after school or they might not be really in a mood to talk. Yes kids nowadays are much more moodier than we were!
- If a child has a particular event that they don’t want revisiting, they can close up. These events can be anything from a bad grade, bullying or fighting in school, hurt or sad feelings or even abuse.
- There may be other issues at home at that are preventing them from communicating.
- They may be thinking of something that is far more interesting to them – the newest movie they watched, book they read, a conversation with a friend or a game they played.
- They want to assert a bit of independence. As they come towards an age when they realise their ‘self’, they may want a bit of privacy and not want to discuss everything about their day.
It is important that as a family, communication is an ongoing process. These are some tips that can help establish and maintain good communication:
- Establish a questioning strategy. I know that sounds military like! Its purpose is to highlight the most important times your child is away from you. Remember you need to find out how he is when your eyes are not on him. These times include when he is at school, when he is on the way home, when he is at home with a caregiver and at other times like at an afterschool class, party, play date etc.
- Don’t bombard them with questions. Don’t interrogate.
- Start with simple questions and then head to the ones that need more attention. Don’t dive straight in no matter how pressed you are for time.
- Ask questions that preferable do not require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Ask questions that help kids give explanations. ‘Did anything interesting happen in school today?’ is a yes or no question. ‘What’s the most interesting thing that happened in school today?’ is a question that requires a more detailed answer.
- If your child expresses that he is tired or doesn’t seem like he wants to talk, don’t nag him. Leave it and revisit the questions after sometime. Do not use phrases like – ‘Listen to me now, I need to know’ or ‘Answer my questions now.’ Your chat time is meant to be a fun, non-stressful time so keep it light.
- Never start your chat with ‘We need to talk’. As with adults, this sends a signal that the chat is a serious one or in the worst case that it’s bad news or your child has done something wrong. Keep it light at all times, even if the conversation is a heavy one.
- Schedule family time. If possible, try to have at least one meal a day as a sit down meal with the family. Try not to use any electronics during this time – this includes phones, checking your email and watching TV. Use this time to communicate.
- Always be accessible. Your child may not want to particularly talk or answer a question when you want to. He may however revisit the subject later. I know you would agree with me, children become quite talkative during bedtime. Maybe it’s good to use it to our benefit!
- Watch your child’s non verbal cues as you talk to him. Notice carefully if they look you in the eye when you talk or have their arms crossed in front of them. More often than not it is these that will alert you to anything that needs your attention.
- If you find it very difficult to communicate with your little one, look for support within the family. This could be your partner, grandparents, elder sibling, cousin or even an aunt or uncle.
- If there is a pressing issue that you might be worried about, like bullying or something else concerning and you find your child not responsive, think of a change of scenery for your chat. Take your child out for a hot chocolate, movie or burger and ease into a chat.
Once you have strategized, you may use the following questions as a starting point. These are not by any means the only questions that can help start off a conversation and obviously not all of these are to be used on the same day. Your child will seriously get sick of you and clam up if all these questions are bombarded at him all at once!
- What’s your favourite (time of the day/subject) at school?
- Was there anything you wish you had at school that you didn’t have today?
- What was the most interesting thing you learned?
- What was the hardest thing you learnt today?
- What questions did you ask today?
- What were most kids doing at snack time?
- Whom did you play with during snack time?
- Did you share your snack or someone else’s snack?
- Who did you sit with at (class, snack, bus, afterschool class)?
- What challenged you the most today?
- What was your favourite part of break time?
- What was the coolest (saddest, funniest, scariest) thing that you saw today?
- What is the best thing in school today?
- What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
- What was the worst thing that happened in school today?
- Anything cool going on?
- What was the most interesting thing your teacher said today?
- You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favourite?
- What was the worst thing your teacher said today?
- How would you describe your teacher? Is she nice?
- Does your teacher shout in class?
- Did anyone in (class/school van,etc) have anything fun or interesting to talk about?
- Gosh I remember there used to be this big bully in class who was forever annoying all of us, do you have anyone like that in your class?
- Do kids fight during (school time, break, on the way home)?
- I noticed some children in your class that I don’t know the names of. Do you have any new friends?
Once you have started talking to your little one, use these lines to keep the conversation going:
- No way! Can you tell me more?
- Seriously? Then what happened?
Talking to your child is a continuous everyday process. The questions in this article are focused mainly on school time and it’s not practical to cover the other day-to-day scenarios in a single article. Nevertheless, communication should be about everyday things that take place at home and should include questions on parents, siblings and the general feelings of children. Letting your child know and letting him feel that you are available to talk to whenever he needs to is very important; to not only provide a stable foundation for your child but to also help him understand that whenever it is needed he has your support.
On a final note, never let your child feel like there’s nothing to talk. Even when he stops communicating, keep talking so that he knows the topic has not ended and you are interested. Keep talking while giving him that space he needs and without nagging. Make sure that he knows whenever he is ready to; he can pick up the conversation.