"What did you learn in school today?"
"Anything interesting happen?
"Did you like it?"
"It was okay."
Employ the following do's and don'ts to increase your child's willingness to share useful and important information about his school experience.
Don't play 20 questions. Ask a few questions each day and rotate them. No one likes being asked the same question every day. And no one likes being asked 20 questions on any one day. It feels like prying and gives the child one more reason to clam up. Scale back the number of questions you ask.
Do ask questions that require more than a one word response. "Did you have a good day today?" and "How did it go today?" require one word answers. If you ask that kind of question you do not encourage a lengthy response. The child can answer, "Yes," and "Fine." Instead, ask a question that requires some thought. "Tell me about the most interesting thing that happened to you today," and "What surprised you about school today?" will usually generate more lengthy responses.
Do use the "Say some more" technique to encourage your child to expand on a brief answer. After a short response, use the phrase, "Say some more" to elicit further information. Say some more is invitational and sounds less like a question. "Please continue," "Go on." and "Keep going" are parent talk phrases that encourage the child to keep talking.
Don't seem desperate. Children can smell desperation. It gives them a sense of power to withhold from an adult something the adult appears to want so badly. When you come across as wanting information desperately you encourage the child to cling on to whatever it is she has that seems so valuable to you.
Do use your parenting network to glean school information. If you don't have one, get one. Rely on the other parents in your child's classroom to provide you information. Remember, in a network, information flows both ways. So when you have useful information or hear a disturbing report contact the parents in your network. See what they know and share what you have learned.
Do encourage your child to invite friends over. Your child will talk more freely in the presence of peers. Ask occasional questions to the friend to show your interest. Often the friend will tell you more than your own child. In addition, you will often overhear your child and her friends talking about school. Be still and listen.
Don't ask questions to which you already know the answer. This is a set-up for your child. He may not answer the way you expect, and then you are in the position of trying to determine if he is lying or hiding something. Instead, tell him what you know and ask for further clarification from his point of view.
If your child ever starts talking about school, do stop talking and assume the listening stance. Give your child the space to talk. Listen non-judgmentally. Nothing will stop the flow if information faster than judging what is said. When you react like a judge, the information flow dries up.
Don't expect that your child is going to tell you everything that goes on at school. It's not going to happen. Be active and involved. Find out what is going on by being present. Get involved at school. Talk to the teachers regularly.
Do create family times where conversation predominates. If the TV is on during dinner there is no space left for talk. If the radio and MP3 players are on in the car, when can talk occur? Set the norm by talking about your day during these times. Be the change you would like to encourage in your family.
There is no quick fix to get your kids talking about school. There is only a series of strategies that need to be implemented and used consistently throughout the school year. These skills will work if you work the skills.
Your child didn't learn to be silent about school information overnight ,and she won't learn to speak more freely overnight either. Invest the time -- because you, your child, and your child's education are worth it.
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