How can you get more than a “fine” out of your kids when you ask them, “How was school?” Here are a couple of ideas.
Set aside 10 minutes a day for “special time.”
What or whether kids choose to share with us has a lot to do with their personality, of course. But a factor that is more within our control is our connection with them – specifically, how much they trust us with the innermost thoughts and feelings.
We can lay a foundation of trust and connection using “special time.” Every day for at least 10 minutes, try to do something with each kid that they choose. Play a game, read a book, walk the dog, etc.
This may sound easy, but it’s not; in the hustle and bustle of every day life, 10 or 20 minutes per kid can be hard to find. That may seem ridiculous to you, but between daily tasks, homework, dinnertime, and bedtime, adding a whole other activity can be daunting. There is also the fact that you may not want to do what your child wants to do.
When kids consistently receive “special time”, they feel secure in the knowledge that they are one of our highest priorities, and that they can count on us to be there. It is during this special time that they are most likely to open up and tell you about their day at school.
Be honest about why you want to hear about school.
Why is it important to you that you know what is happening at school? There are legitimate seasons to want to know, and reasons that push kids away. Here’s the thing: Our kids’ lives are not our lives, and we are not entitled to emotional access to their inner or social worlds. No matter how beautiful or painful things might be for them, it is their journey, not ours. We are support along their journey, but we aren’t heroes in their stories. They are the heroes.
A kid’s primary goal in life is to achieve belonging and significance. Actually, it is a human being’s primary goal to achieve belonging and significance. This is one reason that parents want the gory details of our children’s lives at school. We want to know that we belong in our children’s lives, the our role is significant.
But when we use our children to generate our own sense of belonging and significance, kids can smell our neediness a million miles away. Parental insecurity and anxiety is a heavy burden for a child or a teen to bear, and most kids will avoid it like the plague. Our kids can only truly connect with us when we don’t depend on them for our own sense of self or significance.
We can, however, ask our kids about their day as a way to fulfill their need for connection, belonging, and significance. We can act as curious-but-neutral witnesses to the beautiful mess of their lives. Ultimately, as they grow to trust our motivations, we become a place where kids can share even their most vulnerable feelings without also fearing how we will react.