As parents, we invest a lot of time and attention in our baby’s language development. We sing songs, read board books, make extra effort to point out what things are called and to describe what we are doing throughout our day—even if it’s only folding laundry.
And we delight in their accomplishments: first word, first sentence, first time they say “I love you!”
But as our children get to school age and enter kindergarten, we sometimes focus less on how their language skills are developing—and we may even find ourselves communicating less than we used to.
Big kids, long days
You might be bursting at the seams to find out what your child learned about at school, what they played at recess, or whom they ate lunch with, and some kids will chatter on about every second spent away from you. Other kids might do the opposite and clam up like Fort Knox. How can you break the silence and connect with your child if they won’t talk?
It isn’t uncommon for school-aged children to feel “burnt out” after school and needing to give their brain a break. It is important to get some fresh air and get those muscles working again before you try to have a deep conversation. Do something active together to give both of you a chance to discharge the accumulated stress of the day.
When your child is ready, the trick lies in asking the right questions:
- Get specific: Instead of asking “What did you do at school today?,” ask “Who did you play with at recess? What games did you play?”
- Ask follow-up questions to expand their story-telling skills: “Then what happened?” “What did you say then?”
- Avoid questions that have a one-word response, such as “Did you have fun at school today?” Ask instead, “What was something fun you did at recess?”
- Use their take-home materials as prompts for questions: Ask them about their artwork or science project. Describe what you see and wait for them to explain it. Point out improvements or skills they have learned.
- Know the weekly routine: Do they do journaling on Mondays or take nature walks on Thursdays? Out-of-the-ordinary events like these are great conversation starters and are likely to stick out in your child’s mind.
Speech and language pathologists also recommend modeling the conversation you’d like to see. As nice as it would be, many younger children are unlikely to ask us about our day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t jump in with a quick rundown of your day: “After I dropped you off at school, I went to the grocery store and picked out apples for your lunch this week. Then, I had lunch with your grandma. She can’t wait to watch your dance recital this weekend.”
Communicate on their level
It’s easy to forget that our school-age children are just that—children. Sometimes the best way to communicate with them is not through words but play. You can learn a lot about your child and their world by just spending time with them while they play:
- Ask your child to choose a mellow activity to do together: painting or drawing.
- Play an interactive board game.
- Use this time as a “device-free/distraction-free hour,” meaning no phones, tablets, or TV.
- If your child prefers more active play, ride bikes together or throw a ball around.
Instead of playing a game of “20 Questions” when your child gets home from school, use one of the above play strategies to reconnect. Then, when they are feeling relaxed and settled in at home try asking them about school or who they played with today.
Sometimes, as parents, we get so caught up in whether we are communicating a healthy amount with our child that we overlook the times that our children are communicating with us. They may be telling you for the 20,000th time about “Crazy Carl’s latest YouTube video”—which is of no interest to you—but it’s important to demonstrate good listening skills during these seemingly trivial conversations, so your child will come to you when more serious stuff is going on in their lives:
- Make eye contact.
- Bend down at their level.
- Repeat what you heard them say in a way that demonstrates that you are listening.
Tickle their funny bone
As our children get older, it can sometimes feel like much of the conversation is directed at things they should be doing (“For the 1,000th time, go brush your teeth!”) or things they shouldn’t be doing (“Stop trying to climb the bookshelf!”) Next time try, throwing a little humor in: “I think I see moss growing on your teeth. You better go scrub it off!” or “Who let this monkey into the house?! I better send him back to the zoo.”
When appropriate, you could also share funny and relatable stories from when you were a child. (Remember to give examples of things you wouldn’t mind them imitating!) And who knows, it may spark even more engaging conversations between the two of you.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at email@example.com
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