Talking with Kids about School

September 2012 Talking with Kids about School

I remember this well! “How was your day today?” “O k a y.” “What did you do?” “N o t h i n g.”
Hopefully, the following ideas can help.

Linda Campbell
School Counsellor, School District 57


  •  How was Your Day Today?
“Parents can ask ‘how was your day?’ but children often can’t answer. It’s asking kids to boil down every aspect of their day into one response. And that’s hard for kids (and even grown ups) to do! What a child might really want to say is, `My day was so complex, it was jam-packed with classes and social problems that I can’t even begin to tell you. After all, I’m only in second grade!’


Why is it so hard to talk about school? Parents often get exasperated with kids’ monosyllabic answers to their simple questions. That one well-intentioned line, “How was school today?” has probably provoked more bad feelings between parents and kids than either party ever intended.


Fortunately, some simple strategies can get kids and parents talking and listening. “What was fun? What was the worst part of the day?    Did your teacher explain that math homework?    How did soccer go?”


Understanding Each Other
So why don’t our kids want to tell us about their day at school? And why do we think we need to know every detail? And how can we become more effective listeners? To find out, take a look at the situation from your child’s perspective and compare it to your own.


“How was school?” and “how are you?” are not really questions — they’re greetings. A problem arises because we expect an answer. But the question is so general that it’s difficult for kids to answer, particularly when they are on overload from a challenging day at school. “What parents are trying to do when they ask ‘how was school?’ is to make contact with their child.” But we don’t realize that the question “how was school” may not be the most effective way to connect.


Kids often think adults ask too many questions.
Adults are often just trying to start a conversation and don’t understand that their questions make a child feel put on the spot. Be aware that a question from a big person like you can place demands on a small child, even though you don’t mean it that way.””It’s important to also be clear why you are asking children about school. Is it merely chit chat, are you looking for something more meaningful, and are you communicating in ways that relate to your child’s experience?”


School can be hard for kids and that’s why it’s hard for them to talk about it. Every day at school, kids get things wrong and make mistakes. That’s how they learn. But generally, kids don’t want to come home and say, “I was frustrated by my mistakes but I learned from them.” They would rather come home and say, “I got everything right.” Their feelings about meeting the expectations of their teachers, their parents, and themselves can make school a challenging topic to discuss.


So — should we stop asking questions? No. But you might ask fewer ones and try not to get crazy when your kids don’t respond the way you want them to. Remember that if your kids don’t want to talk, it’s not a rejection of you. When you do speak, try to find ways to discuss what’s meaningful to both your child and you, because this shows that you care.
Michael Thompson Ph.D.  Author, The Pressured Child

  • parentchild.jpg
  • Talking Strategies
“Some kids get programmed to say they ‘hate’ school even if they don’t. It’s tempting to say ‘you don’t mean that’ or ‘you love math,’ but this will deny your child’s experience and can make her clam up.  Your child’s negative comment might mean, ‘I had a tough day, I had a problem with the teacher, or kids teased me.’ It’s hard to know right away, so you might say ‘Really? Tell me more.’ If this is the first time you’ve heard this, you might add ‘It must have been a tough day.’ Or even ‘What do you hate the most?’ Then, let your child fill in the details at her own pace.  If you hear this complaint over and over, you might ask ‘What have you tried to do to make it better? And ‘would you like any help from me?’” Lawrence Cohen


There isn’t one right way, one perfect question, or one right time to have these conversations. Here are some suggestions to try:


Greet your child with an enthusiastic hello. Try saying “great to see you!” or “I missed you!” or simply, “I hope you had a good day,” instead of “How was school?” These statements communicate what you really feel without instantly putting your child on the spot with a question. As a result, your child is more likely to speak about her day.


Allow your child not to talk right after school. Many kids don’t want to talk the minute they walk in the door. They want to have a snack, call a friend, or just chill out. (Think about how you feel when you walk in after a long day at work. Wouldn’t you rather put your feet up and talk later?)
Learn about your child’s life at school. The more details you know about your child’s school experience, the more valuable your questions will be. If you know the teacher reads a story every day, ask “What story did Mrs. Younger read today?” If you know the teacher’s newsletter comes home on Wednesday, set up a ritual to read it together at dinner. If you visit your child’s classroom, make note of new things you might want to discuss with your child later.


Say what’s on your mind. If what you really need to know is “How did you do on the math test?” just ask. If you fish around, your child will resent it more. “But keep in mind that if you frequently ask questions about tests, that’s all kids will think you care about,” notes Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D.


Avoid face-to-face interrogations. You might do better in situations where you’re not face-to-face like the car, when your child takes a bath, or when you are cooking. In this way, your child won’t feel put on the spot.


Let the talk emerge naturally. Discuss the day while you cook dinner, read together, or check homework. But try not to use dinner as a time to talk about problems like homework or tests. Everybody needs a break!


Listen before you talk. Let your child lead you into conversations on her own. Sometimes your child will drop hints without your asking, like “We planted seeds today!” or “Where’s the atlas? I need to find Antarctica.” These are perfect openings to talk together about school.


Try communicating without words. The best way to make contact with your child isn’t necessarily through talking. “We want our children to talk with us — because talking is our way of communicating. But talk is not how all kids express themselves: play is,” notes Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D. “If we insist they talk our way, we may not get much information, but if we play on their terms, we might. Many children would prefer to reconnect with a hug, by playing a game, or rough housing. Some are more physical than verbal, so you might ask them to give you thumbs up or thumbs down about school, instead of describing it.”


Talk about funny things that happened to you. One of the best ways to stimulate conversation is to talk about funny stuff kids can relate to. “A great way to start conversation is to describe an interesting and funny event from your day. Kids will then respond and talk about interesting things that happened to them,” adds Cohen. Talk about the skunk you passed on the way to work. Talk about the toilet paper that got stuck to your shoe. Your kids will laugh and probably start talking to you — even the older ones.


Don’t jump in to fix your child’s problem immediately. If your child brings up a problem like “I hate my teacher!” take it in stride. First, find out what else your child has to say and what he wants to do about it. You might encourage your child to figure out solutions by asking, “What do you think you want to do about this?” and “Is there something you’d like me to do?” Follow up later with “How did your new strategies work?” or “You haven’t mentioned math class lately, does that mean it’s going better?” If the problem is serious, discuss it with the school.


Help children develop their own solutions. Don’t feel you need to supply the right answer yourself. Instead, share ideas about possible solutions that will help your child feel better. “This is a way to help your child see you as an ally who will support him when problems come up. By helping your child figure it out for himself, you are also giving him a whole set of tools for solving the problems independently as he gets older,” advises Diane Levin, Ph.D.


These questions might work!
Conversation Starters
Late September celebrates:


International Day of Peace.     September 21, 2012
First Day of Autumn!              September 22, 2012
Yom Kippur.                           September 25th at sundown, 2012
Good Neighbour Day.              September 28, 2012
Community Support for Parents:


GRG Group in Prince George
Prince George Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Circle meets twice a month, onsite childminding is available if needed. For more information or to join the group call: 250-962-0600


Parent Support Circles
Free weekly gatherings for parents in any situation to safely share their challenges, receive support and understanding for their roles as parents. Circles are free, anonymous and confidential. Led by trained volunteer facilitators. Child-minding assistance is available and some Circles have onsite childminding. For more information, or to join a group, call: 250-962-0600.

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