Geetha picked up her four-year-old son, Rohan, from school and headed home. While in the cab, she asked her son, “So, how was school today?”
“Fine,” he said.
Geetha tried another question, “Did you have fun today?”
“Yes,” said Rohan and kept looking through the car window.
Exasperated, Geetha tried a different tactic. She asked, “Tell me something new you learned today?”
Without looking at his mother, Rohan said, “Nothing.”
Disappointed, Geetha decided not to ask any more questions and they completed their journey home in silence.
Indeed, this is not a unique scenario. Many parents face this problem - where they are unable to communicate with their child about what happened at school. An effective parent-child communication is key to a child’s development. According to a study titled Parent–Child Communication by Elizabeth A Munz published in 2015 by The International Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Communication, a parent-child communication is defined as ‘The verbal and nonverbal interaction between a parent and child within a family system. Parents are biological or nonbiological caregivers (e.g., adoptive parents or step-parents) and parent–child communication takes place throughout the child's ages and developmental stages.’
There are numerous benefits to effective parent-child communication and it helps the child meet his developmental goals.
"I have often noticed that children, whose parents encourage conversations with their wards are well set on a path towards holistic development. This shouldn't come as a surprise as we already know that children scale the heights of language acquisition in a matter of years, owing to their observation of their parent's conversations. Communication skills modelled by parents are often brought right into classrooms. Though, a public place with potentially challenging encounters, I have witnessed such students tackle the social dynamics of a classroom with relative ease and grow in both confidence and competency. They are also equipped with an emotional IQ that allows them to function more or less seamlessly across the different phases of mental development, especially through adolescence due to their conviction gained from prior conversations with parents, that, if they communicate they will be heard." - Indhu Rebecca Varghese, an educational expert from Australia
How to effectively communicate with your child:
Focus: Pay attention to what your child is saying. If she knows that you are interested in what she’s saying, she’ll be encouraged to talk to you more.
Don’t tell lies: After a certain age, children can understand when you are lying to them or trying to avoid a question. Whatever happens, be honest with your child. Even if you don’t know the answer to a question, accept it and tell him you don’t know. Don’t try to evade a question that requires a detailed explanation. Talk to him and he’ll respond in kind.
Simplify: When talking to your child, don’t use complicated words or jargon she won’t understand. To make a conversation more relatable to her, simplify your words and phrases.
Encourage conversation: Ask leading questions to your child. When you say things like “Tell me more!” or “What did you do then?” it will not only encourage him to talk more to you but also make him think about what he saw and felt, and describe that to you.
Don’t let your emotions take over: If you are having a bad day, make sure you never take it out on your child when you are talking to her. Sometimes, even your tone or gestures can discourage her and make her feel hesitant in talking to you. If you can’t control your emotions, postpone the conversation with her to when you feel calmer and more in control.
Respect your child’s opinions: Your child observes the world around him and how it works and then forms his opinions about it. Acknowledge and respect those opinions when he expresses them to you. Never ignore or make fun of his opinions. After listening to his opinions and ideas, gradually introduce your ideas to him and explain your reasons to him. As a child, he will follow your lead automatically. And, when you explain your reasons, he will understand your ideas and opinions better and try to integrate them into his actions as well.
Do not make fun of her: Never make fun of words or phrases your child uses, even if they seem funny. Also, try not to overreact or be too glad when she says a complicated word or phrase, as your reaction can embarrass or unnerve her, and she might be unwilling to share her thoughts with you.
Appreciate responses: When your child expresses his thoughts or ideas without being prompted to do so, remember to appreciate and thank him. This will show him that you look forward to listening to his thoughts on different subjects and valuing them.
Some points to remember before asking the questions:
- Keep it open-ended. Don’t ask questions which have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
- Don’t ask vague questions. If you want a specific answer, ask for specific information.
- Ask questions based on facts, for example, “You have a new teacher this session. What’s she like?”
- Don’t include emotions in your questions. Keep it casual.
- Make sure the questions are positive
Now that you know how to effectively communicate with your child, talk to her about her day at school and ask interesting questions that will prompt her to have a more detailed conversation about her school and friends.
Questions you can ask your child about his day at school
- What made you laugh at school today?
- What do you want to do or learn more at school?
- What is the coolest corner in school?
- Who do you like to play with most at school and why?
- Which game do you like to play the most?
- Where do you usually go to play at recess?
- What to do you prefer: the swing or the sandpit?
- What word did your teacher say the most today?
- What colour dress did your teacher wear today?
- What is your class teacher’s most important rule?
- If you could say three things to your teacher, what would you say?
- Teach me something new that you learned today?
- What did you find very hard to learn today?
- What’s that one thing you want to learn before the school is over this year?
- What new songs did you learn today?
- What did your friend draw today?
- Which friend do you like to sit with the most in class?
- What funny thing did your friend do today?
- What’s the nicest thing your friend did for you today?
- What nice thing did you do today for your friend?
- Which friend got an interesting lunch today?
- When did you feel the happiest today?
- What did you find funny today?
- Did anything or anyone make you feel sad today?
- Did the teacher introduce anything that made you excited about learning today?
- What made you feel proud of yourself today?
About good deeds
- How did you help a friend today?
- Did you finish your class-work on time today?
- What did you say when your teacher asked you, ‘How are you today?’
- Imagine you are my teacher and I am your student. If I were naughty in class, what would you say to me?
- Imagine I am your best friend at school and asked to show your nice pencil box. What would you do?
- Imagine I am your friend and asked to share your lunchbox. What would you say to me?
On the way to school and back
- What interesting things did you see on the way to school?
- Who sat next to you on the bus today?
- What did you and your friend talk about on your way back from school?
While some of these questions will help you get a better idea about what your child does at school, do not insist that he answer each of them. Children have short attention spans, and as parents, you need to be patient with them. Also, encourage your child to take the initiative. It will pave the way for a healthy and seamless conversation.
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