Parents often complain that their children don’t share with them. They complain that conversation stops after the parent or adult starts asking questions. What did you do at school today? How was your day? The answer will usually be nothing or fine. Conversation is painful and doesn’t result in understanding a child’s day or how they think. Children from age 6 to early teens have a lot to say but what, where, why and how questions block the flow of thought. They cause the child to stop and focus on the w or h rather than their experience. They will answer but when that type of question is asked they stop focusing on the content and process of their day and go to the w word.
To engage children in conversation particularly after a busy and exhausting school day it is more productive to start by meeting the child’s immediate needs. This could be a snack, some relaxation such as a few minutes of TV or play time. There are key opportunities to chat with a child. During snack time, playing a game, and riding in a car are a few possibilities. Getting a child’s relaxed attention is important. It they are watching a TV program or playing a video game or reading you won’t have their attention and will distract them from there activity so are unlikely to get a conversation going.
Encouraging conversation is best done with open ended statements rather than questions. Tell me about your day; tell me about recess; tell me about lunch time; tell me the best thing that happened to day; are a few possibilities to get things going. Show me what you brought home today; is another possibility. Do not do a barrage of statements do one and wait for a response. Be patient not demanding and relax your tone. Notice how a child looks. If a child looks happy comment, “you look happy today”. If a child looks sad note it. “You’re looking kind of sad today”. Then wait for a response. Doing something together that allows talking while working or playing takes the focus off the discussion and will let things that a child might be thinking or worrying about come out. When a child tells you something of concern say “tell me more” rather than a direct question. It is important not to jump to conclusions about what you think a child is saying and let the child continue only clarifying with low key questions, like “who was with you”; “what happened next”; “show me”; “tell me more”. Don’t lecture. It cuts off the flow of process thinking.
Talking and sharing with your child should be rewarding for both of you. Make the situation pleasant and nurturing. Empathy for hurtful or stressful situations is very important. Hugs are helpful when a child is feeling hurt feelings or the pain of sharp criticism. Remember you are teaching language when you talk to your child as well. Define the meaning of a word if you think your child does not understand the word. Often children have heard a word but don’t know what the true meaning of it is. It is often a mistake to assume a child understands concepts and words so check it out and then teach.
Parents are the primary teachers of their children.