“How was your day?”
We’re all guilty of that non-answer, aren’t we? Faced with such an open-ended question, crafting a response that has any meaning takes effort and attention we don’t always want to spare right then. In adults, it’s a valid conversation-stopper. But when speaking to one’s children, it can be a roadblock in the way of making certain they get the help they need. Getting past it while still respecting their boundaries is a learned skill and takes practice, but here are a few steps to help.
- Before you ask, have some idea of the shape of their day. Who are their teachers? What was their schedule today, if it rotates. Did they have shop class or band? This takes a little effort on your part, but it is the natural forerunner to step 2.
- Be more specific. “How was band today?” “You started early this morning, how did that go?” Without getting invasive (try not to friend their teachers on Facebook!), let them know that their day was on your mind and that this isn’t just a rubber-stamp attempt to chat.
- Don’t start by asking about their homework. Work up to that if you feel the need, but they’re very aware of their workload without you reminding them.
- If they don’t want to talk about a specific class or teacher, don’t press. The reason could be anything from an embarrassing accidental nap at their desk to a missed assignment to an awkward situation with another student. It could, yes, be something more alarming, but pressing unwelcome conversation is not going to get that out of your student. Instead, watch for repeated patterns in the same vein, and make certain your child knows that they can come to you about problems freely, without being forced or shamed.
- When they are talking about school, treat them like you would an adult sharing anecdotes about their job. To a student, school is full-time employment, every bit as weighted as a career. Their conflicts with classmates, teachers, and the curriculum are important. There is often nothing you can do about them, but making sure your child feels heard and understood will help them immensely, and gives you a good opportunity to teach them to explore how they process problems and learning.
We all want to know our children better. That has to come from them, freely. All you can do is let them know that you are open to hearing from them, and make them feel safe in sharing with you.