It's back to school, and parents of children just starting school are anxiously wanting to know what their children's days are like. So are parents of older children! I think it's a fairly universal truth that it is hard work to find out what they have actually done all day. If you do manage to extract something more than a "nothing" or an "I can't remember", there can still be obstacles. Here is a fairly typical conversation I had with my daughter when I picked her up the other day:
Her: "They said I was ok mummy"
Me: "Who said you were ok?"
Her: "The lady in the office."
Me: "Why were you in the office?"
Her: "Bailey took me."
Me: "Why did Bailey take you?"
Her: "Because you take someone with you when you go to the office."
Me: "But WHY WERE YOU THERE?!?"
Eventually it transpired that she had had a sore throat, but that the "lady in the office" had decided it was mild enough to wait till home time.
A parent's impression of their child's school day can be rather nebulous, and so I thought I would share a few techniques I've developed to get a bit of a firmer idea of what their school day is like.
1. Ask the right questions
I can't emphasise this one enough. If you ask a completely open question like "How was your day?" or "what did you do today?" you are opening yourself up to "fine" and "I can't remember." Most children, and some adults too, draw a blank when they are asked such a broad question. They can probably only conjure up what they did in the last couple of minutes, and that's only with a fairly attentive child. You should only expect answers that are as good as your questions.
2. Be specific
Here are some examples of more closed questions that may get you a better answer:
Who did you sit next to at lunch today?
What game did you play at playtime?
Who makes you laugh in your class?
What was your favourite part of today? (a bit open, but sometimes works)
Is there anyone you don't like to play with?
What book did your teacher read to you today?
If you're lucky, this will be an opener for a conversation that will end up providing you with a lot more detail. Your child is more likely to remember and recount events when it's part of a natural conversation.
3. Ask about what they are interested in
For a lot of children, this is often playtime! Asking about what spellings they worked on and what they learnt in maths might not be the most scintillating conversation for your child, and they may not make much effort to remember. This may be what you want to find out, but if there is something specific about their learning you want to know, I recommend asking the teacher. So ask about the games they played, who they like to sit next to, who brought the tastiest snack, and who is the cheekiest child. You'll end up learning a lot about their social groups, and how well they are fitting in.
4. Do your research
If you do want to know a bit more about what is happening in the classroom, then do a little research on the subject. Find out about the class's timetable, what themes or activities your children are working on, and which teachers they are working with. Hopefully the school will have already provided you with a lot of this information, but if not, it doesn't hurt to ask. Then think of specific questions related to it, eg "Did you start your nature picture in art today?" or "which instrument did you play in music?"
5. If you can, volunteer
This is a great way to have an insider's view of your child's school day and to put names to faces. Plus your children will love having you come into the class - it makes them feel very special. Even if you can't do this regularly, see if you can offer to help on any one-off school or class events.
6. Be prepared for the conversations that come at awkward times
Children have incredible timing. It will be just when you are rushing to get them out the door, or when they have got to bed really late that they come out with something like: "N told me I was mean" or "N made fun of me". These are the moments when your children are needing your guidance and reassurance, but why couldn't they have bloody told you at 4pm when you had nowhere to be and you had just asked them how their day had been?!? You can't control when these issues will pop into your child's mind, and I feel it's really important to deal with them when they arise. You can't recreate these moments at a more convenient time, because their attention will likely have moved on to something else, and the message you wanted to give will be lost.
7. Don't believe everything you hear
I heard a teacher once say "if you take what your children tell you about me with a pinch of salt, I'll take what they say about you with one!" Even the most truthful, honest and intelligent children misinterpret words and actions sometimes. So before you are incensed and ready to give a teacher/other child a piece of your mind over something your child has told you, just breathe and get your facts straight first! It might all be a misunderstanding.
Even with all this effort on your part, you are still likely to get your fair share of "can't remember" and "nothing". The fact is you are never going to know everything about your child's day. Children begin their independent life when they start school, albeit in a very limited and controlled way. They are making their own friends, taking on new responsibilities, and having a life separate from you. This means you should accept that you just can't know everything they are doing. The best you can hope for is to create as many opportunities for natural conversation, and be available when they do want to talk. Try not to get frustrated that they can't remember the details you would like to know. I know that at the end of a long day when my husband asks me how my day has been, my mind draws a blank and I find myself saying "Fine..."
This article first appeared on Isabelle's blog perplexedparent.com
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