12 October 2009 02:11 PM

Talking About School

by Dr. Rick

Regular readers of this blog know that I strongly believe in daily – or near daily – parent and child conversations about school.  These conversations begin as soon as your child goes off to kindergarten, and they continue until she walks across the stage at graduation twelve or sixteen years later.


Easier said than done.


Why is it so difficult to talk to kids about school, especially the older ones, the reticent teens who make us feel like inquisitors?  Maybe we take the responsibility so seriously we spook ourselves and our kids?  Maybe we start too late?


Here are some useful tips I’ve gathered over the years from my own experiences and those of parents and students with whom I’ve worked.

  1. Find the right time.  As soon as he gets home from school is probably not the best time to start chattering about How Was School Today?  Take it easy.  Let him know you’re glad to see him, and let it go at that for a while. There needs to be some school-free time for most kids.  Once the two of you have discovered the right time, build a routine around it.  Snack time and treats are good components for a relaxed and free conversation.

  2. Be a role model.  I’ve noticed how kids like to hear stories about our own experiences, as long as they don’t become often-repeated sermons.  They learn conversation skills from watching and listening to us, so let’s be good role models for them.  Talk about what went on in your day – a challenge you rose to meet, an assignment at work that stretches your skills – and watch how they pay attention.  They might, just might, relate it to their own experiences.  They learn to talk by listening to us.  They learn to listen when we listen carefully.

  3. Converse.  It’s a conversation, not an inquisition.  Keep the tone light, subtle, and informal.  Show interest.  Listen actively with eye contact, no interruptions, and a concentration on feelings as well as words.  Make them feel as if there’s no one else you’d rather be with at this moment.  Ask questions later.

  4. Show your values.  These are good times for kids to learn our values.  Without preaching, show how you admire persistence, effort, honesty, respect for others, and a sense of humor.  Tell him he’s smart, but insist on seeing his homework.

  5. Let them come to you.  Sometimes the best strategy is to play it cool.  If they’re not interested in talking when you’re interested, let them know you’re available.  Adults with kids are always on duty.

  6. Ask specific questions.  Specific questions, rather than general ones, will get better, more interesting, more helpful responses.  Ask, “Did you have a good day?” and you’re going to get a yes-or-no answer.  Ask, “How’d auditions for the school play go?  Tell me about your song,” and you’ll get a different response.

  7. Use other information sources.  Sometimes you’re just going to have to get information from other sources, like the school newsletter, PTA meetings, and emails to teachers.  Don’t consider this a failure of communication with your child.

  8. Monitor.  When you are talking, listen carefully for special topics of interest.  Problems in math class?  Get help.  An emerging interest in a sport, music, or some other extracurricular activity? Encourage it.  Behavior problems in class?  Address them with the teacher.

  9. Keep talking.  They’re listening.  Really, they are.

  10. Talk to other parents.  Ask them what their secrets are to keeping up useful, friendly, nurturing conversations with their kids.  Chances are, you’ll learn that it’s a trial-and-error process for them, too.  No one has The Right Answer.  Share success stories with one another.




Add comment


  • Comment
  • Preview

Blog Posting Rules

This blog is for the good of education - for students, for teachers and for parents. I very much value a two-way communication with you and welcome and encourage your comments and feedback. However, to facilitate a constructive conversation that is beneficial to everyone in this online community, I expect the same respect in your comments that I present in my blog.

Read the full Dr. Rick Blog Posting Rules.