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The After School Conversation

Getting information from our children can be tricky. Sometimes your questions are followed by a one word answers or just silence, as if they didn’t understand the question. Which they probably didn’t. The way in which we ask questions is vital to the level of information we are requiring. At times a simple yes or no will suffice but when there is reason for concern or a need for more details then our questions become very important tools to gather the necessary information to best understand our children and what they are going through. It isn’t always easy and takes a little bit of practice. As adults we have to change the way we naturally communicate. To approach a conversation in the mindset of a child.

Whether it is the beginning of a year or term, or simply engaging with your child about their school day throughout the year, here are some tips to keep in mind when talking to your child about school.

  • Ask open ended questions. This allows the conversation to flow and for follow up questions. Yes or no answers stop the conversation in its tracks and limits the possible of further enquiry. Try something like this “What was the best part about today?” compared to “Did you have a good day?”.

  • Ask for specific information when necessary. Children do not think specifically yet. You need to probe further for specific information if you need it. For example “So, you said Johnny was mean to you today. Can you tell me what he did that was mean?” Be careful to make suggestions as your child may simply agree rather than reflecting on what actually happened. Eg: “did he hit you?”

  • Provide a fact for framework and context. When we are too broad in our questioning without providing a framework it can be overwhelming for a child to answer. They may simply ignore the question or tell you all sorts of other things in an attempt to figure out what is you are asking. For example “ How is your teacher?” could result in “she is fine.”, “ she is funny”, “ she is tall”. When specifically you are asking about the nature of the teacher. Try this instead “Your teacher last year was funny wasn’t she? What is your teacher like this year? What do you like most about her?”.

  • Start in a positive note. Positivity encourages discussion and information sharing in children. When we present negative questions it can tend to stop a conversation in its tracks. This does not mean avoid the negative conversations! Allowing a safe space for your child to express their highs and lows is important but, we want to encourage the conversation first, through positive engagement.

  • Choose your words carefully. Depending on the age level of your child and their language ability at the time, choose your words appropriately. Using child friendly vocabulary is vital to ensuring your child is understanding what you are asking and allowing them to respond more accurately. Try to use words they are familiar with. There is always time to learn more words, after school conversation may not be the best time. Unless it comes from them of course; “My teacher told me to concentrate.” It is highly unlikely that your child understands what it means to concentrate.

I hope the above is useful. Give it and try and remember, it takes practice to get it right. Start today.