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Talking with Kids About Their Day

Talking with Kids About Their Day
Communication Tips for Parents

# Make the Time. In today's complex world, it's even more important to make sure you set aside time to talk. That doesn't mean you have to hold a formal meeting. Sometimes the best discussions take place while you're driving the car or puttering around the kitchen.

# Listen to the Little Stuff. Kids will talk to you if they know you're going to listen - whether they discuss heavy issues such as sex and drugs, or everyday things like schoolwork. If your kids know you're listening, they are more likely to trust you enough to talk about everything in their life.

# Listen Between the Lines. Because a lot of kids find it hard to talk to their parents about things that really matter, parents have to pay special attention to what their kids may be trying to say. It helps to pay particular attention to emotions - not just the emotion itself, but its intensity, too.

# Ask their Opinion. Few things please children (or anybody else) more than being asked their opinion. You don't have to ask about important issues all the time, either.

# Don't Interrupt. In a national survey, more than half the children said that when they talked, their parents often or sometimes didn't give them a chance to explain themselves. It's a good idea to give your children some extra time to explain their opinion or desires, even if you think you know what they're going to say.

Ten Words and Phrases to Use at Least Once a Day

You can use these everyday phrases to instill confidence, self-respect, and thoughtfulness in your children.

1. Thank you. It's important to acknowledge your child's efforts to help you or others. You might say: "Thanks for helping me look for that missing sock" or "Thanks for setting the table; I got the salad made while you were doing that."

2. Tell me more. Words like these show your child that you are listening and that you would like to hear more about what's on her mind. "Tell me more" encourages conversation without passing judgment or giving immediate advice - two responses that discourage further communication from your child.

3. You can do it. Your expression of confidence in your child's ability to do many things without your help is important. As your child grows older, there will be many times when your encouragement will mean the difference between his giving up on a challenging task or seeing it through.

4. How can I help? Let your child know you are willing and available to help her accomplish a particular task that may be difficult for her to manage on her own. You might say: "I think you can read that story by yourself now. Let me know if you need help with a new word." As your child takes on projects in school, encourage her to think of specific steps that are necessary to complete a project. You both can decide which tasks your child can handle on her own and which ones she'll need help with.

5. Let's all pitch in. A child is never too young to learn that cooperation and team effort make many jobs easier and speedier - and often more fun: "Let's all pitch in and finish raking the leaves so we can go in and bake cookies," or "Let's all pitch in and clean up the kitchen or we'll miss the movie." Family activities and group chores can develop into pleasant rituals that enrich a child's life and create fond memories.

6. How about a hug? Don't just tell your child you love him - show him. Research indicates that young children deprived of physical touch and displays of affection often fail to thrive. As children grow older, they vary in the ways they like us to show affection. Some love to be cuddled, while others prefer a quick hug or pat on the shoulder. It's important to be aware of what your child enjoys most at a particular age.

7. Please. After all these years, "please" is still a classic. When you ask a favor of anyone - including children - this "magic word" acknowledges that you are asking for a behavior that will help you and/or make you happy. (P.S.: Don't forget to say "thank you" when the job is done.)

8. Good job! Good for you. Self-respect and self-confidence grow when your child's efforts and performance are rewarded. Whenever possible, give your child lots of praise. Be sure your praise is honest and specific. Focus on your child's efforts and progress, and help her identify her strengths.

9. It's time to... "It's time to get ready for bed," or "do homework," or "turn off the TV." Young children need structure in their daily lives to provide a measure of security in an often insecure world. It is up to you as a parent to establish and maintain a workable schedule of activities, always remembering that children benefit from regular mealtimes and bedtimes.

10. I love you. Everyone needs love and affection and a feeling of acceptance and belonging. We can't assume that children know and understand our love for them unless we tell them. Letting your child know that you love him (and showing him with countless hugs) is important not only in toddlerhood, but also as he gets older.

Words for Special Circumstances

1. I'm sorry. Parents need to acknowledge their own mistakes and express regret whenever they cause their child unhappiness or distress. "I'm sorry I got soap in your eyes," or "I'm sorry I wasn't listening; tell me again," or "I'm sorry I can't read any more stories to you; I have to make a phone call now." By expressing your sincere regret, you are showing your child that you are being considerate of her feelings and providing her with a model of good behavior as well.

2. No. "No, don't do that; you might hurt someone," or "No, we don't behave that way," or "No, we don't have enough money to buy that." When parents have a hard time saying 'no' to their children, these children may grow up without knowing how to respond to limits. Parents can provide children with some freedom of choice (for instance, let your child pick out his own outfit, or let him decide what he'd like to eat for lunch), but be prepared to set boundaries.

3. That's enough. "That's enough TV," or candy, or roughhousing, or arguing. This phrase sets limits and paves the way for your child to develop a sense of self-control. Sometimes a "time-out" period is necessary if your limits have been reached and your child isn't responding to the verbal message you are trying to send.

4. How do you suppose she feels? Asking this question provides an opportunity for your child to consider the effects of her actions on another person, and it gives her the chance to develop empathy toward others. When you and your child read stories or watch TV shows together, look for opportunities to talk about the feelings of others.

5. This isn't working. Can you think of another way? Considering alternative ways of behaving in difficult situations is one of the steps of problem solving - an important skill that is useful throughout life. Your response to problems that arise in daily life, at home, or at work provides a model of behavior for your child.

How to Say It

Communicating with your child involves more than the words and phrases you use. What you are saying will be more effective if you:

* Try to speak to your child in a pleasant tone of voice, instead of an angry one.

* Speak in a light conversational tone instead of yelling. If you do end up yelling, apologize to your child.

* Take the time to really communicate with your child, instead of rushing through a conversation.

* Devote your full attention to your child when she is talking to you, and try not to let your mind wander.

* Use facial expressions that correspond to the words you're speaking and the emotions you're feeling.

* Let your love and respect for your child guide your words and actions.

* Let the responsibility of being a parent be reflected in your willingness to take control when it's necessary.

* Smile more often than you frown.

Speaking With Your Child

For ages: Four to eight

The scene

You: "How was your day?"
Your child: "Good."
You: "What'd you do?"
Your child: "Nothing."

Looking for more than one-word answers from your kids about their school day? Here are seven ways to find out what they're really up to.

Ask specific questions

Asking questions that only require a one-word answer will oftentimes produce just that. You can encourage your child to give something more by asking "situation-specific" questions, such as:

* "What did you do on the playground today?"

* "Who did you play with?"

* "Tell me the best part of the story the teacher read today."

Start a "names I know" list

Have your child start a list at the beginning of the school year called "Names I Know" or "My Class." Keep it on the refrigerator. Ask specific questions about the kids on the list. Little kids can have trouble keeping track of names, and your child might want to talk to you about someone whose name he can't remember. Keeping an ongoing list serves as a memory jogger for your child and a conversation starter for you in the early weeks before class lists get distributed.

Bonus tip: To encourage literacy, put magnetic alphabet letters on the fridge. Have your child use them to spell out the names he knows.

Give your child time to unwind

Think about your own after-work needs. Just like you, kids need time to decompress after a long day at school. Try not to jump right in with questions about school the moment your kids are dismissed. Give your child time to get home, unwind, and sit with a snack. You might even want to wait until dinner; that just might be the amount of transition time they need.

Hone your kids' conversation skills

If you're not getting the answer you're looking for from your kids, it could be that their conversation skills need a little work. Helping kids practice the art of conversation will serve them well in making and keeping friends. Show them that a good conversation begins with eye contact, appropriate body language, and a warm greeting.

Share some of your day.

By sharing how your day went, you're modeling for your kids the kind of information that you'd like to hear from them: "This is what I did today that I felt really good about. ..." "This is what I did today that was a little bit hard, but I did it anyway. ..." These statements naturally lead to questions that you can ask your kids: "What was one thing that you did today that was hard (or fun) for you?"

Play a conversation game.

Children at this age have rich imaginations and love stories. Try turning school conversations into stories. Begin by saying, "Today, I went to school and sat down right next to _________." Let your child fill in the blank. "First, we opened up our backpacks and I took out my folder and looked inside and saw ______________."

Then try injecting a little humor: "Next, we hung up our backpacks and coats and... went right to sleep!" At this your child will probably giggle, or make a face with mock annoyance. Most likely, he'll correct you with the accurate information. Continue until you get to the end of the day, or until you're satisfied that you've heard more than your child would normally volunteer.

Get the facts straight.

From time to time you'll hear information that may concern or even alarm you about your child's day at school. Don't ponder the details -- ask the teacher! It could be that you and your child's teacher are using different terminology, and your child is confused by your questions. On the other hand, if your child complains about being teased or picked on, repeats a complaint with regularity, or complains of frequent trips to the nurse, there may be a real problem. Calling the teacher or school counselor is the best way to find out what's going on, and get your child the support she needs.

Copyright ©, 2006-2008: School Age: Talking with Kids About Their Day