My five-year-old, Sienna, started prep this year, and let me tell you it has certainly been a rollercoaster of emotions. I want to engage with her, be there, and be involved with what's going on in her life. Honestly, the real reason for this is because I am so worried other kids aren't going to be kind to her. And when this happens, I want to know that she is going to tell me.
If you're anything like me and have kids in kindergarten or school, I'm sure you can relate to a simple "Good", "I don't know." when asking your child how their day was. You want to know if everything has been okay, but sometimes it seems almost impossible to get more than one word out of your little one.
Here are five tips on how to get kids talking about their day through meaningful conversations.
1. Give your kids time and space.
Imagine when you come home from a stressful day at work, and your partner immediately jumps at you, asking lots of questions. You need to calm down and relax a bit first - so does your kid.
At school, the little ones are responsible for themselves. Back at home, they can let their guard down and be a kid again. Let them have a snack first, play with the pet, or whatever helps them to relax. When you realize they start talking about things on their terms, you can start asking questions about their day.
2. Be informed about your kid's day.
Try your best to be aware of the schedule at school: What teacher, what subjects, any events, to be able to ask about specific topics.
I'm especially worried and interested in knowing if my kids might be bullied, got hurt by someone, or feels misunderstood. And this is where teachers play such a significant role in our kids' life. Wouldn't you agree?
Perhaps also try asking questions about the teacher, for example: "What does Mrs. XY do, if you say you don't understand something?" You might get the answer, "I don't ask." Here you should dig deeper.
"Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability, and their hearts can exhale."
- Brené Brown "Teachers: Our Most Daring Leaders"
Try to find out more about the school mates by asking, "Who do you like most?" and "What do you like/don't like about him/her?". Unfortunately, bullying can be a big problem for our children, and we need to know if our kids are a victim or might be even a bully.
3. Ask the right questions
Always keep your questions open, so a simple "Yes" or "No" in return isn't possible. For example, "What did you learn in today's science class?", "What did you like about it?" "Why don't you like him/her?", etc.
Here I need to be careful not to go into interrogating mode (I so easily get carried away and just fire away too many questions). The questions should be fun, make your child want to talk about events. Best case, they even start to talk about their feelings. For this, you can ask, "How did it make you feel?" or a simple "What do you think about that?"
No matter how old your child is, and what kind of tantrums they are having, take everything they say seriously and validate that their feelings are okay. Because what they experience is essential for them, right there, right now.
4. Try not to judge or provide solutions.
Even if your child is only three years old, they often find their own solution to a problem, if we only let them. Our solution isn't necessarily theirs.
Try not to ask questions where you already suggest a solution. For example, "Don't you think you should go talk to your friend?". Instead, you might ask, "What can you do about it?". Help your little one to find out what he or she wants. We should try not to judge. Kids will learn in their own way and time.
For us adults, some problems our kids go through might seem irrelevant; but for your child, it might feel like the end of the world. Exactly here, we validate their feelings and make them feel loved, no matter what they say or feel. I always try and stay away from saying, "Come on, it's not that bad" or "Stop crying", because if we want them to come back to us with a problem, we need to take their feelings and issues seriously.
5. Avoid performance anxiety
I have learned to attach my worth to achievements, so I'm acutely aware of trying not to foster my daughters' perfectionism behaviour. Even though I already started seeing these traits in my oldest about a year ago. This is one of the reasons why I started Sharing Kindness – read my full story here.
We tend to go directly to the result of tests, the grade. If you know a test result is outstanding, you can try to get more information about it beforehand. For example, does your child think that the test was tough, and what do her classmates feel about it? If we only ask about topics you know your child has problems with, we might risk creating a competitive environment, and your kid could sense some pressure to perform.
We need to create a safe space where our children can talk about anything they want to. No judging, no downplay, no performance pressure.
Here the magic happens, and they start talking about their day without the need for us to drag everything out of them.
We need to take our children seriously, even though we think it's "only small problems" they are going through. And the best way for us to understand is by putting ourselves in their shoes. Perhaps you have memories of being bullied or times when you felt misunderstood?
It's about encouraging them to explore the emotions instead of playing them down.
The most precious moments when my oldest daughter connects with me is when I am telling her stories about my experiences as a child. It instantly makes her curious, and she starts asking questions about the feelings associated. By doing this, it also shows them that you know how it feels and respects their feelings.
A fantastic tool that I find tremendously helpful is confidence-building cards. They have opened up a non-judgmental, connective, and safe space for conversations about our feelings. Even my husband is in on it while using them at the dinner table. You can find more about building confidence in kids and my 3-Pillar-System: Kindness, Confidence, and Resilience - click here