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What Made You Laugh?

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Oct 21, 2016

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As my older daughter makes her way toward the 10 and 12 years, I think more about parenting a tween. I can sense the inevitable drift happening. She loves to borrow her mom’s phone to text her friends. She has secret languages with people at school. In short, she has her own life. And, as with all parents everywhere, we’re face the challenge of how to get her to tell us about it.

We used to just ask her the standard: “How was your day?” It felt like the easiest, open-ended question to ask, specially designed to allow our children to answer at length about the nature of their experiences in the last 24 hours. But, as any parent of a 9-year-old or older knows, as the age increases, the words decrease. We now get one-word non-answers: “Fine,” “OK,” “OK, I guess,” (if we’re lucky) and did I mention “Fine”?

Having two daughters, the change in communication is excruciatingly apparent. Our 5-year old  comes home ready to tell us about each and every thing that happened. An X. A Y. Her world is one with constantly new interactions, and she wants to share them.

I began to think more about the radio silence from my daughter’s perspective. For her the school day is her version of “going to the office.” It’s full of meetings, social interactions, trials, tribulations, and light moments. It can be boring, exciting, stressful or even terrible. When coming home from a long day at work, how many of us want to instantly review the experience? How many want to rehash a meeting that didn’t go as planned? Or summarize a grueling presentation having just arrived at our safe place? Not many people I know. We all need time and space to process what happened. We need a chance to let go. So asking our children how their day went will almost always elicit a one-word answer.

So, I decided not to ask about her day when picking up my daughter from school. I just let her be. If she’s in the mood to tell me what happened, she will launch right into a story as soon as we are walking home. If she’s not, she’ll talk to her friends or walk quietly. In other words, I realized that I didn’t need to really prompt her, but let her decide when to open up.

It’s good practice for everything else to come. The preteen and teen years are all about kids becoming more independent, more self-sufficient. My daughter will soon be making a lot more decisions without my prompting, whether I like it or not. Maybe if I let her get used to choosing to share things with me now, she’ll keep doing it.

It won’t work with every kid, I know. Some kids simply won’t open up without prodding, which most of the time may not work. But I’ve got a magic question for that, which I use on the days my daughter is incommunicado:

What made you laugh today?

In my experience, this question works every time. It gets my daughter talking about something she wants to talk about. Second, it automatically avoids discussing school work, grades, homework, or other stressors. And third, even if my daughter doesn’t answer, it tips me off that maybe she had a negative experience during the day without forcing her to relive it in the telling.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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