Many parents or caregivers of school-aged children would be familiar with the age-old ritual of asking your child how their day was at school. Often, these questions are met with a simple one word reply or in some cases, no reply at all. Parents are left pondering what their child is actually learning and if they have any friends. Sound familiar?
Encouraging children to share information about their day at school is about asking the right questions at the right time. Before you can do this, you need to consider your child’s personality and communication style. Some children do not respond favourably to being bombarded with questions the minute they get in the car after school. Others might feel pressured to respond a particular way for fear of your reaction to what they say. Whilst some children might need questions phrased a particular way to encourage them to open up. Identifying the communication style or needs of your child is the first step to authentic and open communication.
If you feel your child is becoming overwhelmed with being asked when they first see you, resist the urge to jump straight into questions but rather say hello, offer them an afternoon snack or drink and tell them a little about your day. Ease the questions in as part of a relaxed, non-confrontational conversation. Also, by modelling how you communicate about the day, it will demonstrate effective communication for your child.
It is difficult to keep your emotions in-check when your child is experiencing difficulties at school and most of us are probably guilty of having an overreaction to something our child has told us that has happened at school before. If this has been the case in the past you will need to rebuild your trust with your child and show them a controlled and positive outlook to overcoming problems at school. This will take time, but stick with it as it will open the doors to communication in the future.
When phrasing questions, try to word them in ways that elicit a response that requires more than one-word. Instead of – “How was your day?” try, “Tell me about the best part of your day”. Instead of – “Did you learn anything today?” try, “What are 3 things you learned today?”. If the answer is “nothing” then you could ask which subjects they had and ask a specific question related to that subject. If the class teacher uses a particular app to communicate to parents, use that information as a discussion point to connect with your child. Remember, all these things take time to develop so the key is be positive and encouraging but not forceful.
As featured in: District Gazette - March '19
Sara Drebber is an educational consultant, teacher, writer and mother of three.