Source: Patti Ghezzi/School Family
One day your child tells you everything, from the consistency of the macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria to the hard words on the spelling test to the funny conversation she had with her best friend.
The next day…poof.
Parent: “So, what’s going on at school?”
For many parents, the information they receive about what’s happening at school ebbs and flows, especially once their kids hit 10 or 11 years of age. Even younger children may be reluctant sometimes to share the details of school life.
It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong or that you’re somehow missing a key piece of the parenting puzzle. It may simply be that your child is asserting independence and craving a little privacy. “No one tells parents this,” says Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in adolescent relationships, family relationships, and stress. “Parents feel they are not very good at parenting.”
Of course, that’s not the case. You might just need to tweak your approach. Don’t interrogate, Sheras says. Kids don’t want to be grilled. Be subtle; be patient. Learn to listen intently to the words your child does offer. Watch your child’s body language and demeanor. Avoid yes-or-no questions if possible, and be specific. Try escalating—starting with simple questions and gradually delving into more sensitive topics.
If all else fails, wait it out. Try again later with a different approach, such as choosing a different time of day to start a conversation or taking your child out for a burger before asking questions. In a place where she’s comfortable, she might feel more talkative.
Don’t start the conversation with “We need to have a talk,” Sheras says: “That’s when a child dives under the table.”
Here are some questions that can help you get started.
- “I know you were stressed out about that math test. How did it go?”
- “I’m really proud of how well you’re doing in school. What are you studying these days that really interests you?”
- “You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favorite?”
- “If you could make up a teacher from scratch, a perfect teacher, what would he or she be like?”
- “When I was your age, I really didn’t like social studies. I just didn’t see the point in studying how people in Russia lived or what kind of languages Native Americans spoke. What subject are you really not liking these days?”
- “What’s your favorite time of day at school?”
- “What do you think about your grades? How does your report card compare with what you were expecting?”
- “We used to have the meanest boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?”
- “I’ve been reading a lot in the news about kids picking on other kids. What about at your school? Is that happening?”
- “I’m hearing a lot about bullying on the Internet. It sounds a little scary, but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Can you tell me about it?”
- “I noticed a few new kids in your class. Which ones have you been able to get to know? What are they like?”
- “I know it was hard for you when Kenny transferred to a different school. How’s it going without your best friend around?”
- “Who did you sit with at lunch today?”
- “I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to Sarah’s birthday party. I know you’re disappointed. How have things changed between you and Sarah now that you’re not in the same class?”
- “I really like the way you choose such nice friends. What qualities do you look for in a friend?”
- “I know you really like your new friend Caroline, but whenever I see her she’s being disrespectful to adults. Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing? What do you like about her that I’m not seeing?”
- “I can tell it embarrasses you when I insist on meeting your friends’ parents before letting you go to their house, but it’s something I need to do as your mom. Is there a way I could do it that would make you feel more comfortable?”
- “How’s it going with your activities and schoolwork? What would make it easier for you to manage your schedule and responsibilities?”
- “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. How about we go for a walk and catch up?”
- “I’m sure I do things that embarrass you. What do I do that embarrasses you the most?”
Talking with your child should be an ongoing process. Keep the dialogue open, and be available so your child can find you when she feels like chatting.
One final piece of advice from Sheras: “Keep talking even when you think your kids aren’t listening,” he says. “Your children are listening whether they act like it or not.”