As families get together at the end of the day, parents will often ask their children about school and what they learned. Ideally, parents would get as much detail as possible about their children’s learning experience, social interactions, how they felt, what went right or wrong and how much they ate. But the reality is that many children just don’t open up as much as parents would like them to. Children might respond with “nothing” or “I don’t know” or give very vague answers, leaving many mothers and fathers with more questions about how their children are really feeling.
In most cases, this doesn’t present as a major concern. But when there is a change in behaviour or when there is a notice from school that requires immediate attention, the need for ongoing and meaningful communication becomes even more necessary. Every family’s communication style is different but below are some useful tips that may facilitate more conversations with your child:
Nursery and Foundation Stage
- Familiarise yourself with their schedule so that you know what they are doing in school. This will give you a good base to start when instigating conversation.
- Try to ask specific questions about their day; asking questions that have a yes or no answer minimises the likelihood of any type of real conversation. E.g. What did you like best today, circle time or going to the playground? What did you like best about the playground, the sandbox or the climbing frame?
- Observe their behaviour- you know your child best, if you notice a change in their demeanour, name it. e.g you had a funny face when I collected you today, what happened?
- Be aware of your reactions and facial expression- try to stay calm when they are telling you something. For example your child may say that someone is picking on them- it's easy to feel angry and frustrated by this, however this could result in them shutting down the conversation. Instead, validate their feelings, e.g. “that must feel awful when someone treats you badly.”
- Try not to ask 20 questions as soon as you’ve collected them from school. Give them time and space after school time. You can plan to have some time to connect, maybe over a snack.
- If you don’t see your child until later in the evening again, plan some time to connect after dinner, even for 10 minutes doing a puzzle, colouring or playing in the garden. Setting aside this time sends the message that you are available to them.
- Be aware of their daily schedule in school and the curriculum and who they are playing with.
- Share some details about your own day, it shouldn’t be a one-sided conversation. This encourages them to share. Children mirror what they see adults do.
- If your child is telling you a story or speaking about their favourite game, pay attention! This is an opportunity to show that you are a good listener. If you are there to listen to the small stuff, they will come to you with hard stuff.
- Try not to problem solve- often parents want to fix things, this is completely normal. Trying to problem solve can come across as judgemental and no one wants to be judged.
- Spend some time together watching your favourite TV show or another shared interest. This shows that you are making time for them.
- Pay attention to body language- if you sense something is not right you can reassure them that you are there for them e.g. “I can see something has happened and that you are upset, If you are not ready to tell me that’s okay. I am here for you when you want to talk.”
- Remain calm- be mindful of how you react when they open up to you. If you start to panic and show how worried you are they may start to think the situation is much worse than they thought.
- Listen- as mentioned earlier, it's common to want to jump in and fix everything for your child. However sometimes all the child may need is some time to vent and get something off their chest. Practice your listening skills, no phones, no distractions. When your child feels heard they are more likely to come and speak with you again.
Keep in mind that making the above changes and seeing the results takes time. The main idea is to create a habit of talking and creating a culture of openness at home that is ongoing and not just after serious events occur.
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BIS Abu Dhabi Counselling Team