"How was school?" "Fine." How many times have you had this weary exchange with your children? Parenting author Sarah MacLaughlin shares her best tips for expanding the after-school chat. By Alexa Tucker, REDBOOK.
mom and kid
One look says it all
To build a platform for a meaningful post-class conversation, MacLaughlin says, "Connect with your child nonverbally. Look her in the eye. Smile. Wink. Beam her with love. This warms up your relationship with your child without putting any demands on her." This will also let her know you're ready to give her your full attention.
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Remind them of your affection
It's no secret how important it is for kids to feel cared about. Before diving into conversation, MacLaughlin suggests, "Express your love and gratitude. Tell him, 'I love you!' This fortifies your connection with him further." Give him a genuine compliment, or give his hand a squeeze. Not every talking point in your chat has to be a question.
Remember the golden rule
The phrase 'treat others as you wish to be treated' applies to more situations than you realize. To get your kiddo to open up, MacLaughlin urges, "Share something about your day. Start things off with the engaging tone you'd like your conversation to have. If you offer information first, this models the act of sharing and they won't feel so put on the spot."
Accentuate the positive
Get your child thinking about what the best part of their day was. "Ask her what went really well at school. Inquire about the 'sweetest' part of the day," says MacLaughlin. "If she says, 'I don't know,' or 'Nothing,' you can share your favorite moment." Monkey see, monkey do-this may encourage your kid to think of a happy moment of their own.
It's not all sunshine and roses
Just as your days aren't all perfect, neither are your child's. MacLaughlin says, "Allow her the opportunity to vent the 'bitter' from the day. Ask about what frustrated her at school. Try, 'What was so boring today?' or 'What got you feeling cranky?' You can also share an appropriate frustration from your life." Key word: appropriate. Mention that you locked your keys in the car, but skip the detail that arguing with your hubby was distracting you. Be sure to talk about how you were able to handle it, so your child sees that challenging situations can be overcome.
Hold your tongue
It's a mother's instinct to try and fix her child's problems at school, but sometimes, all he or she needs is a little sympathy. MacLaughlin says, "If he has complaints, just listen. Do not try to fix the problem, or say that his friend 'probably didn't mean it.' Validate, validate, validate by saying something like, 'That must have been so hard,' or 'I'm so sorry that happened to you.' It is important for children to see empathy modeled and feel heard and understood."
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Kids are goofy; don't be afraid to engage their sense of humor. MacLaughlin suggests, "Ask really silly or irreverent questions like, 'Did anyone fall asleep at school today?' or 'Did you have chocolate cake for lunch?' This can help lighten things up and get you both more relaxed and ready to share."
Practice your manners
Kids learn by example, so don't break the boundaries you set for them. "Whatever you do, don't interrupt! We do this more than we know," MacLaughlin points out. "Instead of asking questions, use paralanguage such as 'Hmm' or 'Uh-huh.'" This helps us practice attentive listening. Next time you're tempted to check your smart phone while your child is mid-sentence, remember that non-verbal interruption can be just as rude.
Embrace the silence
Don't feel the need to fill every conversational pause. MacLaughlin reminds, "Allow for silence. If you don't fill the quiet, they may be more inclined to open up."
Conversation starters to try
If the usual "How was your day?" isn't doing it for you or your kiddos, try asking one of these for an interesting, and probably unexpected, response.
"What was something nice you did for someone? Did anyone do something nice for you?"
"What did you do at recess?"
"What did you say in class today?"
"What books are you reading in class?"
Authority and consultant on parenting, Sarah MacLaughlin is the award winning author of the best-selling book What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. Visit her at her blog.
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