From the Dreaded “Nothing” to “Tell Me More”
When chatting with parents at our Morning Coffee Hours recently, a few parents asked how they could get their children to tell them more about their school days. I remembered a Principal’s Message from just last year at this time that addressed this very topic and everyone I spoke to asked if I could share it once again. So here you go, with a couple of edits and new additions to my October Message.
My own children, now grown up, were always great at telling me how their days in school had gone. They never hesitated to share the good, the bad and even the ugly. I even knew when they didn’t use their best behaviour, without the teachers saying a word to me. I considered myself lucky because over the many years that I have been doing this job I have repeatedly heard from parents that when asked what they did in school today, their children invariably say “nothing”!
As parents we want to engage our children in conversation that lets us know what they are thinking, how they are feeling, what they are doing and whether they need support of some kind. As educators we wish that our students would share stories, of all the awesome things we do in school every single day, with their parents. On both sides, it is difficult and sometimes even frustrating when we hit the one-word dead ends. Don’t despair, there is hope. We can actually teach our children to engage in conversation and get the information we so desperately want. It’s all about the questions, the timing, and a few other important factors.
Big, open-ended questions are a great starting point to getting more than the word “nothing” from our children. Engaging children in conversation can begin with questions like “What was your favourite thing you did at recess today?”, “Tell me something funny that happened at school today”, “What part of the day did you like the best?” (be prepared to hear recess or lunch as the answer to that question), “Who did you sit beside at lunch today?”, “Who did you help to today?”, “Who made you smile today?”, “What made you laugh today?”, “What is the hardest thing you did today?” or simply “How was your day? Tell me about it”.
When children respond to open-ended questions, they gain confidence in their ability to communicate, they learn to analyze and evaluate what they have done and what they have learned, they are given an opportunity for reflection and most importantly they (and we) often get to the heart of their emotions. These are all important life skills that we are exposing our children to and at the same time getting the information we want. It’s a win-win situation! Of course, we do not want to ask all these questions on the same day. Starting with one or two at a time will help us determine which questions elicit the most meaningful responses and then those can become our go-to questions.
When we ask questions is often as important as the questions we ask. We should choose times when our children can best focus and when we ourselves have the time required to give our full attention to the answers given and be prepared for the dialogue that will hopefully come. Dinner time, quiet time before bed or even on the car ride home, are often great times for these types of conversations. The more practice the children get with this information-gathering, the easier the communication should get and eventually it will become routine.
To help make these conversations positive and powerful we need to be mindful not to interrupt. We should ask about feelings around things that are shared and validate those feelings, letting them know that feelings are okay. Finally, we should thank our children for sharing with us. All these things will fuel their confidence in telling us more. Instead of feeling bombarded by invasive questions, if we do this right, we will be building valuable rapport and trust with them. If they get used to telling us the little things, they will surely feel more comfortable telling us the big things later in life. This is so important. Because trust me, the big things are coming!
So next time you hear that word “nothing” from your child when you ask what they did in school, remember to quickly change your line of questioning and at the very least say “tell me more”. Take it from me, there will never a be a CGS day when “nothing” is the correct answer!