Here’s the scene: your 9-year-old has been at school since 8 am with hundreds of conversations, experiences, and thoughts, but when you pick her up, it’s difficult to get more than a few vague words out of her. Is this scene familiar to other parents out there? Short of advanced spyware equipment, it’s nearly impossible to find out what really goes on at school. And what happened to those chatty preschoolers that told you every thought entering their head? Sometimes, it’s just about asking them the right questions. Here’s a simple game Sarah played one afternoon with her 9- and 7-year-olds while they’re eating after-school snacks to get them talking again (with a free printable!)…
This post is in partnership with #TalkEarly, a parenting movement with Responsibility.org that encourages early and thoughtful conversations with children around alcohol while modeling healthy behaviors.
First, I want to tell you a bit about this partnership I have with #TalkEarly and Responsibility.org. It’s a national not-for-profit organization that is leading the fight to eliminate underage drinking and is promoting responsible decision making around alcohol. The #TalkEarly program works to help parents create a culture of conversation with their children from a young age all the way through adulthood. When your children are little, it may seems crazy to think that at one point they stop telling you every detail about their day, but it happens! #TalkEarly is helping to empower parents to continue open communication and to model healthy behaviors around alcohol. Last fall I attended a summit in D.C. and learned a ton about all of this. I’m excited to share what we talked about and some ideas that have been swimming in my head for the last few months. In the meantime, you can find out more right here on their website, which has a lot of valuable resources for your family.
One of my favorite parts of the summit was hearing from Dr. Shefali, a clinical psychologist leading the movement in conscious parenting with her books, The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family. The idea behind her books is powerful: that our own unexplored emotional experiences set a tone in our home that is passed on to our children without us realizing it and that creating a healthy relationship with your children first comes from establishing connection. Her idea of connection before correction is one of the main takeaways. Each day we should be spending at least 20 minutes of one-on-one time with each child doing what they want to do (not washing the dishes or doing homework). It could be playing princess dress-up, farm puzzles, or even video games together (yup, that counts!). She suggests that acknowledging who our children are, their interests and experiences, and taking the time to connect with them on their level in an honest way is the most important thing we need to be doing as parents. That sometimes feels overwhelming to me with 3 kids, but spending that 20 minutes of one-on-one time is a great daily goal I’ve been trying.
Her research reminded me of another book I love called The Happiest Toddler on the Block. It was a lifesaver of a book when Henry was a toddler with big emotions. In one section, it suggests that instead of having time-outs to have time-ins (dedicated one-on-one parent time) when children are upset or out-of-control. Connecting with them where they are in their emotions and experiences instead of trying to fix or change them. Often just acknowledging what toddlers are feeling is enough to calm them down. I became a big believer in this after trying it out with Henry.
So we know it’s important to connect, but how do we do that when our school-aged kids won’t tell you what’s going on?
This conversation-starters game is really simple: Download our questions here to get your kids talking. Cut them out into strips, and place in a bowl or jar by on the table. When they’re sitting around eating after-school snacks (or during dinner), pull out your conversation bowl and then each take turns picking one and answering it. Adults should participate too!
A couple years ago I found this book called Q&A a Day for Kids. It’s a three-year journal with simple questions they answer everyday. When Henry was 5, we started working on it with him, and I love looking back at all the sweet answers to interesting questions like “What have you done lately that you’re proud of?”, “If you buried a treasure, what would be in it?”, or “What would you change if you were principal of your school?”. Inspired by that book, I put together a few questions that you can cut out for the game in a pdf for you to download here.
Do you have any simple tips for connecting with your school-aged kids and getting them to open up? What works for you?