Julie Kravetz, 39, a divorced mother of two, learned how to talk to her 5-year-old daughter, Mia, about her school day through trial and error.
“Whenever I asked her direct questions about her day, like ‘What did you do in school today’ or ‘Did you have fun during recess,’ I got one-word answers and that was really frustrating,” recalls Kravetz, an advertising executive who lives in Springfield, N.J. (pop. 14,429).
Kravetz decided to change her tactics. Now, instead of asking direct questions, she uses another approach to communicate with her daughter about school. “I will say something like, ‘Mommy read a great book today’ and she will often chime in with, ‘We did some reading in school today too,’” Kravetz says. The new approach has helped encourage two-way conversations.
“I am a working mother, so when my daughter wasn’t talking with me about her day, I felt really shut out of an important part of her life,” Kravetz says.
Kravetz’s dilemma is a common one and her solution is a smart one, says Betsy Corrin, a child psychologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. (pop. 58,598), and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “It becomes a tug of war,” Corrin says. “Parents are trying to get information and often their intensity scares their kids off, so the kids just shut down.”
By adopting some new strategies, you can encourage even the most reserved child to open up and share information about their school day. Here are some ways to get your child talking:
- Time it right. “Don’t pounce on your child or children the minute they walk in the front door,” Corrin says. “Let them unwind first.” When you do approach them, don’t pressure them. “Ask your child to ‘hang out’ and then casually ask if anything happened in math class,” Corrin suggests.
- Be specific. “‘How was school’ is kind of abstract for a child and they don’t really understand what you want to know,” Corrin says. “Ask more (specific) questions, such as ‘Did you see Suzy today’ or ‘Did you play tag during recess.’”
- Talk about yourself. Just like Kravetz does, talk about yourself to get your child to open up about himself or herself, says Dr. Leon Hoffman, a New York City-based child psychoanalyst and director of the Pacella Parent Child Center. “Just talk about your day. Chat with them about what you did or what daddy did or ask them about their teacher, because it is sometimes easier and safer for children to talk about other people than themselves,” he says.
- Use technology. “Many older kids today communicate by text message or e-mails, and if your child is one of them, this may be a very valuable way to communicate with him or her,” Hoffman says.
- Take a deep breath. “If your child will only give you one-word answers, don’t drive yourself crazy or try to force your children to talk, because that won’t do anyone any good,” Hoffman says. “Keep working at it.”