Sometimes “good” isn’t good enough — especially when it’s all parents can get their kids to say about their school day. But there are several ways that parents can encourage kids to talk about what happened at school and, in the process, develop a closer relationship with them.
Sheri Boxberger relies on her routine with daughters Elyse, a sixth-grader, and Gretchen, a fourth-grader, who attend Schwegler School. She starts with the basics and builds on that during the evening.
“Sometimes they want to talk and sometimes not,” she says. “I always ask first, ‘How was your day?,’ then ‘Anything new?’”
As Boxberger starts making dinner, the girls get to work on their homework. They usually talk more about their days at the dinner table, and Sheri lets the girls bring up topics they want to discuss.
Each child’s communication style is unique, so Boxberger has learned which times are best for her girls.
“Gretchen also likes to talk about her day at bedtime when she is relaxing,” Boxberger says. “She likes to talk about school anytime.”
Things are different with Elyse, who talks less about her friends but opens up about school and what she’s working on in class. Every evening Boxberger and Elyse talk about her class tracker, which helps them keep up with assignments and sometimes sparks conversation.
Another good time for talking is at bedtime, when kids are often more calm and comfortable, Boxberger says. This also may be when kids are more comfortable sharing bad news or talking about serious subjects.
If something is wrong, Boxberger says, “you can tell in their voice. They’re talking about something, but you can tell there’s some sort of hesitation. I might question them … or talk at a later point. Sometimes they say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ Sometimes we bring it up later or the next day.”
What’s most important is for parents to let kids know they are willing to listen and value what they have to say.
“I feel I am very blessed to have two children who are pretty open with me, and they both know we can talk about anything at any time,” Sheri says.
Get ‘em to talk
Kea Wormsley, counselor at Schwegler School, offers these tips:
• By simply listening to their child’s thoughts and ideas, parents help build self-esteem. Ask them about their day, how they feel about life and what they think about events involving their family or the world, she says.
• If they answer with “I don’t know” or “Nothin,’” parents should share an accomplishment of their own at work or at home that day. Say, “Hey, guess what I did today? I finished my big project. What did you do today?”
• When kids are talking about their day, focus on the positive events. If something happened that upset them, help them decide how they could solve the problem. Don’t feed into the negativity.
• But be careful not to give out praise too easily, Wormsley says, because children can learn to expect it for every little thing they do and rely on praise to make decisions. Instead, she suggests acknowledging their achievements — “You made a drawing with an airplane in it” — or asking them how they think they did on an assignment.
• Talk with kids about how they can make their school day go better: Pay attention, follow directions, get their work done and treat others with respect.
• Keep conversations about teachers positive. If you have questions, disagreements or concerns, talk with the teacher directly in a private setting.