Have you ever been stuck in that “What did you do at school today?” – “Nothing” loop? At some point, we all have. Knowing what’s happening in the classroom is important, but when your child just doesn’t give any answers, it can be frustrating. On the flip side, your child may want privacy and to separate home and school. Believe it or not, those boundaries start early–earlier than you probably expect. Luckily, there are healthy, productive ways to talk about school, and we’ve rounded up some tips and tricks to get the conversation started!
Ask open-ended questions
Understood.org outlines just how to switch your yes-or-no questions to something more open. For example, instead of asking if your child’s teacher was nice, try asking for the most interesting thing their teacher said that day, or perhaps their favorite thing about that teacher. While maybe you won’t get the exact answer you’re looking for, letting your child pick what to focus on will open the door for further discussion, and of course you can always ask follow-up questions too!
For younger kids, give them options in your questions. It may be too difficult to put their day into words with no guidance, so ask things like “which did you prefer: recess or snack time?” or “did you go on the swings or on the slide?” to give them some context.
Find the best time to talk about school for both of you
It can feel natural to ask about school as soon as you pick your child up, but they could be distracted by the last thing their friend said to them right before stepping in the car, or maybe your child had a bad day and doesn’t want to talk about it right away. The truth is, the best time to talk will change from day-to-day. Dinner time is a great option, and it lets your child process the day for a few hours before talking about it. Try going around to everyone at the table to say their favorite and least favorite parts of the day. This is a great strategy for not making your child feel like they’re being interrogated or singled out.
Don’t force an answer
It may sound counterintuitive, but if your child doesn’t want to talk, assure them that that’s okay too. The idea is to build trust. With trust, conversation will follow, it just may take some time.
Don’t threaten to call their teacher
It’s easy to get frustrated if your child won’t talk. However, you don’t want to set the precedent that you’ll go behind their back for information. Save the phone call for something serious, like if someone is being bullied.
Ask about homework
This question will get you more answers than you may expect. First, you’ll know what they’re currently learning about. That’s important! Next, you’ll likely be able to get a feel for which subjects your child likes and dislikes based on their answers. For example, if your child says “fractions worksheet” plainly, then appears more animated while talking about the geography assignment they have, you can reasonably deduce they prefer geography to math. From there, you can ask what they like or don’t like about each subject and offer any help if they seem to be struggling in a certain area.
Sign your child up for extracurriculars
Sometimes, kids have a hard time talking about school simply because they don’t like it. Depending on their age, their vocabulary might not yet be developed enough to talk about feeling unchallenged or bored. Ask them if there’s an after-school activity they’d like to get involved with. You’ll be surprised how often they talk when it’s something they love! To talk about school, you may have to ask about the fun stuff first!
Write to your child
Some kids have trouble saying things out loud. It feels uncomfortable for them to be put on the spot and answer questions they need to think about. It can be extra challenging if they’re being bullied or struggling in a subject. To ease them into these conversations, you can write up a worksheet with your questions for them to fill out on their time. Once they become more comfortable with the worksheets, you can start moving towards face-to-face conversations.
BONUS: It may help to write a little bit about your feelings too! For example, validate your child’s feelings by saying you were nervous for the first few days of work!
Be conscious of your listening behaviors
Kids pick up on body language and social cues very easily, so make sure you’re an attentive listener. If you find yourself scrolling Instagram while your child tells you about their new favorite show or video game, you could be unintentionally sending the signal that you don’t care. This could be hindering your child’s willingness to talk to you about the important stuff.
Create a safe space
Above all, it’s important to let your child know they can come to you with anything. Being honest about school and growing up–and all the challenges they entail–requires a lot of trust. Assure your child that talking about difficult topics won’t get them in trouble, and that you’ll stand by their side. Talking about school shouldn’t make your child feel uncomfortable!