Talking about school with your kids can be hard work. The typical after school conversation often goes something like this: “How was your day at school today?” asks mom. “Good,” answers child. And, that’s that. It’s such a challenge to find out what happened at school when children seem to draw a mental blank the minute they get home! It’s so important to know what’s going on with your child so you can help guide him. And, there’s no way to help guide him unless he tells you what’s happening when you’re not around. It’s a catch 22! The only solution is for your child to feel comfortable opening up to you about anything so that you have all the information in order to help.
My boys are 8 and 5 years old. I started practicing three techniques before they started Montessori school. I wanted them to fully understand & accept that I am here to help them. And in order to do so, they need to tell me what’s going on. So, here’s what I do:
1. You can tell me Anything: I encourage my kids that it’s okay to tell me anything. I explain that I want to know what’s going on so I can help them and to make sure everything is all right. This is something I have explained many, many times. I continue to remind them at least once a month, that I am here to help them and they can talk to me about anything! When they tell me what’s going on, I listen and ask questions. If there’s a situation, we work on it together.
2. You Won’t Get in Trouble: My kids do not get in trouble for telling me something that happened when I’m not around. Even if they have done something naughty, they still won’t get in trouble with me. Our policy is to tell me anything without consequence. It’s important that this policy goes along with the first technique. Otherwise, a child will be afraid to tell you something that will potentially get him into trouble. He has to really understand that it’s safe to tell you anything! And you have to stick to this policy. It took a couple hesitant stories from my oldest, and my acceptance of what he said, before it became natural and easy for him to talk to me about school. The naughty things I’m referring to are minor instances. If the teacher was having an issue with one of my children, I would address it at home.
3. Ask Specific Questions: Simply asking, “how did your day go?” doesn’t get the information I want to hear. I always get the standard “good”. I want to hear specific details about their day. I want to know about their relationship with the other kids and teachers. Here are some examples of specific questions that I ask my kids. I don’t ask them all the questions every day! One or two different questions most days is enough to get the conversation rolling.
1. Tell me something new you learned today?
2. Did anything upset or frustrate you at school today?
3. Did anything happen that you didn’t like? That you enjoyed?
3. Did anyone get in trouble with the teacher today? What did they do? What was the punishment?
4. What was your favorite thing you did at school today? Least favorite?
5. Which children do you play with at school?
6. Did you read to the teacher today? How did it go?
7. What’s your favorite subject at school? Why?
8. Did anything special happen at school today?
9. What did you do in art/PE today? Did you enjoy it?
10. Did you have recess/play time?
— If the answer is no: Why not?
— If the answer is yes: Who did you play with? What did you play? Was it fun? Did everyone share?
11. Who do you sit with at lunch?
After using the three above techniques for years, it’s become natural and routine for my kids to tell me the details of their school day without many questions from me. I get all the gossip too. It helps me understand what their day is like and how things are progressing socially and academically for them.
I also like to know what happens when my kids are at a birthday party or at someone else’s house. Pretty much any time they go somewhere without me. The same three techniques work great to help my kids feel comfortable talking to me about anything that happens when I’m not around. I’d love to hear your techniques & questions to get your kids talking.