Top 7 Ways to Tackle Conversations with your Child about School: Part One-The Child/Conversation
Embarking onto the unexpected, but rewarding role of parenting is a meaningful life experience. Applaud yourself for all your accomplishments thus far over the complex challenges you have overcome and positive moments that have been embraced with your child. Another start to a new school year is fast approaching and honorably you are seeking understanding to continue to foster bonding moments with your child.
Most likely, we all have experienced slight discomfort between the routine school conversation that usually goes like this:
“How was school today?” Pause. Awkward silence.
“Fine.” Then a parent asks, “Are you finished with your homework yet?” to continue the conversation. Both parties miss the sense of connection.
Try to not take it personally. In reality, especially in this uncertain time, children need your parental love and support as they undergo growth and changes. Are you interested in finding a different way to approach this type of conversation or understand why “fine” may reflect the opposite in your child’s grades or teacher comments?
We at Staying Ahead of the Game are here to support you. This two-part series will deepen conversations surrounding school this upcoming year. Let’s start with part one of the series that first focuses on the conversation and child:
1. Lead with light and simple questions.
Let’s step back from the overused phrase, “How was school today?” which can lead to a patterned response in your children to answer out of compliance. Remember that the goal is ideally to enjoy each other’s company, spend time, build trust and safety with your child.
Invite time together with your child by greeting them first with sincere excitement.
Engage by sharing about your day with a funny joke or story that becomes more natural for them to open up. Light, simple and specific questions to consider are: “Who did you play or talk with at school today?” or “Was there anything you wanted to learn more about today that you did not get time to ask your teacher about?” These are fun ways to leave room for more open-ended communication.
2. Recognize them.
Igniting a conversation with questions is the right start. As children enter middle school, your child starts needing time to warm up to a school conversation right after getting home from school. There are many emotions they manage during the day, in addition to internalizing new information. Be prepared to talk on their time.
When they share stories, exhibit curiosity! Minor events in our opinion may be distressing for them. Be intentional to either just listen or ask, “Do you need to vent or would you like advice?” This question will demonstrate that you love them unconditionally and that you genuinely want to know about your child’s day.
3. Use attentive listening.
Success! There is progress, your child has shared the events of their day and connection is building. Now it has become an opportunity for parents to model attentive listening and respect for others. This can be a difficult feat as to-do lists and responsibilities are never-ending. Be proactive by communicating if you are busy at that moment, and let your child know a clear time you can devote him.
Maintain eye contact and your non-verbals such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice to display effective listening. An empathetic response that states their feelings helps a child develop more interconnected brain pathways to make sense of their emotions. By pausing the conversation and displaying interest, your child will feel seen and comfortable to share more details.
4. Explore and guide (not interfere).
These first three steps will establish a supportive environment to move further into exploring, not interfering, and guiding your child in conflict resolution with peers or teachers. Choose to approach your responses from a curious and open stance over a critical perspective.
Growing teens especially want to save the judgment from their parents, because they receive it at school already. By approaching the conversation with a neutral zone or a neutral face, you will lower their defensiveness.
Through your attention and attentive listening, together as a team you both can understand more organically your core values to eventually touch on harder conversations around your expectations. These are highlights on steps for you to focus and acknowledge each other to build into a closer relationship. Stay tuned for recommendations on how to harness and empower yourself as a parent and be on the same page with your child in part two of our series.