Get Your Kids Talking

They are going back, they are… they really really are! *insert video clip of the Manic Back-to-School Mom-dance*

Can you believe it? The summer has flown by. For some parents, children returning to school is a long awaited blessing. I have been standing on my front porch for days with a handful of backpacks, a pocketful of kisses goodbye and a couple of false, yet requisite, tears (I have however been through the first days of school routine 35 times in 14 years of schooling, the event has taken on a new tone for me). There are parents however not looking forward to the first weeks of September, especially parents of younger children. I remember being that apprehensive Mom and I feel your worry. I promise by grade 7 you too will be doing the Manic Back-to-School Mom dance.

Until then be comforted in knowing you are not alone or feeling anything different than most every other parent standing outside the primary grade door. I think it is perfectly normal to have concerns about a school/teacher’s ability to care for (survive) and nurture your child. I used to worry about how my kids would negotiate life on the playground without my gentle guidance, supervision and knees to hide behind. It’s a tough job letting go of their wee hands and releasing them into the big wide world.

Every parent faces the delicate balance of letting go and holding on. If you are struggling you are not alone. If I could offer only one piece of advice it would be to stay involved. You could ask your child’s teacher everyday but let’s face it, nobody wants to be that parent, and you don’t have to be if you can get the info from the source…your own child. Ask your child about their day, every day. That sounds pretty easy, doing it effectively to get the best answers and insider information that’s the trick! Okay in the beginning maybe you don’t have to be too creative, a six year old will never hesitate to tell you that little Jimmy Jackson is a royal pain in the butt who could use some manners and a wash cloth. They will also tell you that colouring is stupid or Miss. Mostwonderfulteacherinthewholewideworld reads stories better than any other grown up alive! (Yes, even you)

One day though you will ask “How was school?” and the answer will be “fine” “Okay” or “good” You aren’t going to find out much with answers like that. You run the risk of losing touch really quickly. A week in grade school is like a year in grown-up time. We need better, less ‘parent frustrating’ answers or rather we need to ask better questions.

A few helpful ‘how to get them talking’ tips…
• Ask generic, specific questions that demand more than one word answers “What was the carpet time story about today?” “What did you play with Sally at recess?” Anything that requires some explanation or elaboration and can start a conversation.
• Set aside the time to hear the answers. Choose a routine time every day that your child has your undivided attention. Supper time, before story time, bath time, while walking the dog, sometime of the day when you are not answering phones, on the computer or attempting to balance your cheque book. You know that your kids know when you’re not tuned into them.
• Give them some space. You might be excited to see your child come home from school and be eager to hear all about their day. They want time to decompress. Imagine if you walked out of work to be greeted by a person ready to grill you before you have even had the chance to drive home, drink a coffee or take your bra off (because we all do that – right after removing our shoes) Let your kids come home, take a load off and let the day go. If they are really excited about something they will ramble on without prompting.
• Save your concerns. Build a space where your child is excited and comfortable talking with you about their day. If you pick up on an issue and conduct an inquisition your communication line is going to get cut. If you hear something that raises an eyebrow, shelf the interrogation in favour of some gently placed casual questions later and connect with your child’s teacher.
• Change it up. If you ask the same questions everyday everyone is going to get bored and stop talking. Ask about social adventures one day, academics another. Be as unpredictable as your child is! Keep them guessing for once, I didn’t say this wouldn’t be fun. Whatever starts a conversation qualifies as a relevant question.

Hearing about your child’s day, sharing their excitement, hearing their concerns, fear and frustrations, and celebrating their triumphs and accomplishments eases the worry, and keeps you connected even when you are worlds apart. I think it lets them know that they can go out into the big wide world, have their adventure confidently, knowing there is someone at home who can’t wait to hear all about it. I think it helps us to as parents too. There is something pretty special about knowing that no matter how big their world gets it you can always fit your arms around it.
Enjoy the early years with your kids and their first days at school. For the record when the tears stop flowing (and they will) and the reality of the freedom you have just gained sinks in, it is perfectly acceptable to bust a move.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

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