Connecting with our kids on a Monday to Sunday basis can be really hard … or real easy. For at least five days a week, we get to ask the same question. Over and over again, we form the words in our mouths, all rhetorical-like.
Because we don’t
Enough with that squandering of precious paydirt … let’s reclaim the value of the question that’s answered with a ‘Good’, ‘Fine’, or ‘Same-old’!
Why is this important?
Why are you even asking them said question in the first place? Why do you actually want to know about their day? Don’t ask if you don’t care to hear not only the stated answers but also what lies on the outskirts and below the surface. How they answer can tell you heaps about:
- what’s happening in their life;
- what they totally love and absolutely hate about the whole school-thing; and
- where their strengths and weaknesses lie, not only in academia and sports, but also in social relationships, emotional intelligence, and their understanding of the world and its workings.
When do you ask?
In comedy, timing is everything. So, too, in catching a plane or train, in breaking a world record, or asking after someone’s day. Don’t expect Oprah-worthy aha! moments if you pepper them with a Q&A section the minute they set foot in the car or you through the doorway. As any person carrying a trunkload of groceries between driveway and kitchen can attest, back off!
- Wait for the sweet spot between – or after – catching their breath and catching the latest episode of their favourite show;
- Depending on their personalities, and the relationship dynamics with those around them, they might be more comfortable sharing 1:1, or around the dinner table pulling the whole family into the conversation. Respect their when, where, and with whom.
How do you get them to actually say something?
Firstly, accept that it’s not mandatory. If they’re not the sharing sort, it will naturally be more difficult to get them engaged, and forcing the issue – or being a nag about it – is a bad wand, if it’s magical turnarounds you’re after.
- If needed, wait it out till they seek you out. You set an open-door policy and leave that door open…but you certainly don’t force them inside.
Second, realise that you sleep in the bed you’ve made. If you won’t be winning any Parent of the Year awards for how you’ve handled this thus far, there’s no overnight quick-fix. Rewiring old patterns, and getting trust back – cos opening up about one’s day requires trust – is a slow-mo. But do it anyway…it makes all the difference between the wolf that blew the house down and the wolf that landed in the cooking pot.
- Show up. Consistently. Reaction or not. Irrespective of great insights and meaningful discussions, and being met with a mouth full of teeth. To be truly interested means just that. Not only when you feel they “share.” They might be waiting to see if you’re in it to win it or because their battles are your kind of beautiful.
Third, this is your time to be an audience member, not a stage director or understudy who steps up to take the main lead. This is their life experience, as led, perceived, and experienced by them. You don’t get to determine their reality for them.
- Mentor or counsel later. Listen now. Judge never.
Fourth, actually listen. Seriously, google it if you must, watch a 101-type vid on YouTube, but understand that active listening isn’t expecting an answer when you’re sucked into your phone, trying to salvage a ruined casserole, or plotting next week’s presentation.
- Focus on them. If you care enough to ask, care enough to stick around to listen to what the answers are. The outside world won’t disappear.
Fifth, use it as an opportunity to be more relatable. If there’s a subject they’re struggling with, why not tell them about that time you flunked your test and had to sit with a tutor four Saturdays in a row to get up to speed with the square root of the homophone of a creditor’s metamorphic rock? This is how the osmosis of life lessons happen.
- Share your own academic, sports, and social highs and lows.
What will you gain?
If a happy, well-adjusted child that feels heard, worthy, acknowledged, and loved isn’t enough, there’s always
- Understanding where they are;
- Understanding where they’re trying to get to;
- Understanding what they need to get there;
- Anticipating challenges, and taking action accordingly;
- Celebrating wins, and creating opportunities for more of those;
- Being their partner in this thing called life and living;
- Gifting the world with mighty oaks who won’t hesitate to return to their plantations of origin for connecting to what matters most.
What did you learn about your child today?
Nadja is on an epic quest to make the exciting world of rapidly evolving technology work for her and her family instead of swallowing them up whole. The jury’s out daily on who’s won which round.
This article was first published on CompuKids, a junior technology academy that provides structured online Computer Science and Technology curriculum for kids, where Nadja has served in a parental advisory and marketing consultancy capacity.