Getting Your Child to Talk to You
When my daughter first started school, I desperately wanted to know how each day had gone for her. However, the recall of a three and a half-year-old is similar to that of a gerbil, and I would often get nonsensical responses to my queries: “Rohan was absent so I was sad, but then Rohan and I sat together for lunch so it was fine.” I’ve often heard this complaint from my mom friends as well: “I have no idea what s/he does all day!” It is a fine line to tread, attempting to be the cool, calm, confident mom and yet still trying to find out exactly what is going on for those hours each day.
Parenting tips on this topic aren’t foolproof, and, over the years, I have come up with my own method of maternal inquisition. The first thing I learned was to hold off on all questions until a few hours after school. Once the uniform is off, a snack has been eaten, and my daughter has had some downtime, she is much more open to talking about her day.
Also, when she was young, my daughter did much better at answering yes-or-no questions that then led to open-ended questions. For example, if I asked her at five years of age, “What did you do in P.E. today?” I would be probably get a shrug. But if I asked, “Did you have P.E. today? Was Ms. Anita there? So what games did you guys play?” I had better luck getting an answer.
When my daughter was very young, I also played a game at bedtime with her. Each day, I would say my three favorite and three least favorite things about the day; then, she would tell me her three favorite and least favorite things. I found this to be a great way to gauge what she found enjoyable and what may have troubled her.
Now that my daughter is older, I am less interested in the details of her day and more interested in the bigger picture. How are her friendships, which teachers does she get along with, is one subject particularly tricky. I’ve found that referencing my own childhood experiences on these subjects helps her to open up to me. When I told her that I struggled with Math at her age, she was more open to talking about why she disliked Spelling. Most importantly, I have found that my response to whatever she has to say needs to be non-judgmental. If I respond to “I hate Spelling,” with “You can’t hate Spelling! You need to learn to Spell!” the conversation is over. Instead, I try to say things like, “Why? What do you hate about it?” I open up a discussion on the subject.
Getting children to talk about their lives is a common issue with many parents. And of course, as I look toward the teenage year,s I am certain there will be new challenges to face. My hope is that, by building a history of encouraging and responding to whatever she has to say, perhaps we will be able to meet some of these challenges more easily. Fingers crossed!