The way your child thinks about school has a profound impact on whether he enjoys going to school and how much he learns from it. School is also the place where he’ll likely make lifelong friends. Thus, it is vital you keep abreast with whatever is going on in his school life by talking to him about it.
Trouble is, getting him to open up about school isn’t as easy as asking, “So, how’s school?” To make matters worse, it can get tougher once your tween becomes a teen. He’s going to be a lot more guarded and private about his personal matters and will hate you for butting your nose into everything. Hence, it’s vital that you tread carefully because it’s difficult to recover from communication breakdowns.
Remember you are initiating a conversation, not an interrogation. Being pushy and demanding is a guaranteed way to kill the conversation.
However, you shouldn’t let your kid’s preference for being tight-lipped stop you from trying out different methods of getting them to talk. Chatting about school won’t just satisfy your parental sense of curiosity, it allows you to…
*Help junior avoid potential problems Sometimes, your child lacks the experience and maturity needed to foresee possible issues. Or they could also be too caught up in their problems to realise what solutions they have at their disposal.
*Guide him in handling issues With the right words, your questions can encourage him to reflect on his actions and thought processes, and find alternative ways to address the issues.
Most times, it isn’t so much about your choice of words but the manner in which you say them that matters. Here are a few useful pointers to bear in mind:
1) Your tone of voice
Sounding aggressive or agitated isn’t the best way to initiate a conversation. Children tend to be a lot more sensitive to the changes in your pitch and intonation while speaking. Remember you are initiating a conversation, not an interrogation. Being pushy and demanding is a guaranteed way to kill the conversation.
2) Practise active listening
If you don’t seem remotely interested in the conversation, your kiddo will pick up on that and choose not to provide any more information than necessary. After asking questions, try not to interrupt or jump to conclusions when your child hasn’t finish saying what he wants to. When it comes to your turn to respond, refrain from sounding critical or judgemental of what he has recounted. If you feel strongly that he has done something wrong, your responses should be aimed at trying to help him reflect on his decision making. Try these follow-up questions: “Why did you do it?”, “Do you think you did the right thing?” and “How did that make you feel?" More active listening tips can be found here.
3) Select open-ended questions
You are setting yourself up for failure by asking questions that will get you a one-word answer. Open-ended questions — typically the what, why and how — help to keep the conversation going. It will also encourage junior to provide more information instead of ending the conversation prematurely with a simple yes or a no.
4) Sticking to the bright side
Dredging up negative emotions like unhappiness, disappointments and anger may make your child feel uncomfortable and thus dread the conversation. He will even try to avoid the topic or starting a conversation in the future. Try avoiding the use of words relating to emotions — like sad or mean — as your child is also at a stage where he may not be as skilful at managing his emotions or putting them into words.
5) Respect gender differences
There will come a point when your child has a crush on a fellow classmate, or have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. As with any relationship issues, you can expect them to feel uncomfortable sharing such private information with you. Other times, it could be because of your gender difference that they might feel uncomfortable. Think about it: No daughter would willingly confide in their dads the stuff they get up to with their boyfriends, same thing for sons and mothers. Perhaps, it will be good to get your spouse to try broaching the subject, instead. Otherwise, sometimes the best thing you can do is remind them that you will always be here when they are ready to talk.
If not, sometimes the best thing you can do is remind them that you will always be here when they are ready to talk.
6) Talk about a scheduled activity
Sometimes a scheduled activity or subject is a good starting point to get your child to share his experiences in class. For instance, if you know there was a physical education (PE) class in the schedule, use that to get him to share what activities or sports were carried out. Follow up with questions like “what did you enjoy most about the activity?” to get him to share more.
7) Leaving the heavy subject for last
If you know your child dreads a certain subject in school, you should try to avoid starting the conversation with the subject. Asking about how much homework he has to get done isn’t a good place to start, either. Approach these topics at the end of the conversation instead.
8) Rephrasing your questions
If all that cajoling hasn’t helped in getting your child to open up to you about school, you may need to refine the way you phrase your questions. Here’s some you can use…
Infographic: Paulyn Ng
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