For many parents, kindergarten represents a big separation. Your child is away from you for hours, interacting with children you've never met, having experiences you don't know about. You long to hear all the details. But the reality probably goes something like: "What did you do today?" Your child answers: "Nothing." Or you say, "How was school today?" and you get, "Good."
Getting Your Child To Talk
There are several strategies for getting your child to tell you more.
- Ask when you're ready to listen. You may think you're ready to hear about your child's day, but if you're pulling out of a busy parking lot into a traffic jam, and wondering whether to stop to pick up something for dinner, you're not going to give your child your full attention. Wait until a moment when you're free to listen and then ask about her day.
- Be patient. Your child may be too tired to talk when she first comes home. If that's the case, try not to pounce on your child the minute you see her. Let her have some down time, a snack, a rest. Then try asking her about her day. If you still can't get much information, try waiting until bedtime. Even the most quiet children often will open up right before they go to sleep.
- Be specific. General questions are hard for anyone to answer. Your child may have done eight distinct activities in one morning. She may have spoken to 12 different people. She may have had several very good moments and several bad ones. Sorting all that out is difficult for her.
It's far better to ask about a particular person or activity. To do that, you'll need to know something about your child's day and her class. Many schools supply a schedule for parents. You'll get other clues simply from listening to your child talk every day.
If you can, spend an hour or so in the classroom so that you can put faces of children together with names and get a better sense of details. Then, if your child talks about the block area or choice time, you'll know what she's referring to.
Most schools have some kind of circle time when children sit in a circle and have a chance to talk to the class. There may be show and tell (or sharing), arts and crafts, snack, clean up, story time, music, and outdoor play.
- Follow up. If your child is telling you a lot about one child or one situation, be alert to it; it's probably important to her. If you hear in her voice that your child is anxious or upset when she describes something (or refuses to describe it), try to find out more. Be subtle, however. Most children don't like to be grilled. Sometimes the best way to get a conversation going is to be quietly attentive. Look as if you're ready to listen, but let your child bring things up when she's ready. If you invite your child's friends over, chances are you'll get to hear even more about their days at school.
- Don't give too many opinions. If your child is complaining about the teacher being unfair or another child being mean, don't jump in with your own feelings. Avoid trying to talk your child out of her complaining mood. If you do, you may end up cutting off the conversation. Instead, reflect her feelings back to her by saying, "That made you angry; how frustrating that sounds." Your child may reward your restraint with a torrent of information.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.