By Julie Morton, LCSW-C
How was your day? Good. Fine. What did you do? Nothing. I don’t know. Do these responses sound familiar? Are you frustrated by your children’s lack of response to questions about their day and activities? Are you tempted to sarcastically comment that you’re sure they sat around and did nothing but breathe all day long?
Parents want to know how their children are doing in school, what is happening with friends, and how they are feeling about themselves. However, many parents receive curt answers to these types of questions. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips.
- Many children are overwhelmed or tired at the end of their school day and aren’t ready for a discussion when they first get home. They are likely glad to be done with school, transitioning to focus on their afternoon or evening, and may not want to find the energy to discuss the day. Consider waiting to talk to your child about her day until dinner time or another point in the evening.
- Tell your child one thing about your day. Make sure the information you share is brief and age-appropriate. You can also use this sharing to model how you dealt with a problem, such as forgetting a deadline.
- Instead of asking direct questions, join your child in an activity he chooses (such as a board game, physical activity, favorite play activity, or even a video game). During this casual activity he may spontaneously share information with you.
- When your child does share, make an effort to actively listen. You can’t predict when your child will choose to talk and the timing may not be ideal, but it is important that you give her your full attention.
- Empathize with your child before you provide a solution to fix any problem he is facing. This is particularly important when interacting with your teenager.
Maybe you have tried these ideas without great results. Some children benefit from a more structured approach such as:
- Write parts of your child’s day (class periods, lunch, recess, extracurricular activities, etc.) on pieces of paper and place them in a container. Have your child randomly select one or two to tell you about.
- Take turns asking each other questions about the day. Siblings can also participate and the person who answers a question then gets to ask someone else a question.
- Use the high/low/huh format in which your child talks about the best, most challenging, and a funny or confusing aspect of their day.
- Talk to your child about your concern. Acknowledge that he may be tired at the end of the day and may not want to tell you everything. Tell him you care about him and would like to know how the day went, or how he is handling a particular issue. Invite him to brainstorm solutions.
Hopefully these ideas are helpful and don’t leave you feeling as though you are painfully extracting information from your child. Encouraging this type of conversation when children are young lays the groundwork for better communication later on, when many teens are less interested in telling an adult about their day. However, children of all ages need to know that others are interested in their lives. If you often hear “Fine” or “I don’t know,” resist the temptation to give up or demand information and instead try a new approach.
By Julie Morton, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
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