The school year is now in “full swing.” So think about the school-related dialog you engage in with your children about school throughout the school year. To make those conversations more meaningful, gather increased information, encourage and nurture self-responsibility, and build positive relationships with your children, consider the following do’s and don’ts.
Do listen, listen, listen. When your child begins talking about school, put down what you were doing, resist the urge to multitask, turn and face your child, give strong eye contact, lean forward, and pay attention. Let your body language communicate “I am here for you. I am present. I care what you have to say, I am interested.”
Don’t judge what your children are saying. The instant you judge with “That’s a good/bad idea,” “How could you have done that?” “You should have done this . . .” you are inviting an abrupt end to the conversation. Judging sends a “Big Me/Little You” message. A judge by definition is above the person being judged. Children do not like being in that position and will give you less information in the future.
Don’t say “I was bad in math, too.” First of all, this statement announces that you agree that your child is bad in math. Your child is not bad in math. She is simply learning fractions slowly right now. Second, this sentence invites her to view her math ability as hereditary. This can quickly transfer into a dead-end belief: “Being bad in math runs in the family.”
Do invite goal setting. Help your child set goals for the year, week, or even the day on occasion. Also show them that when they have a goal, it requires action steps to reach it. For instance, if their goal is to learn their multiplication tables, what do they need to do to get there? 1. Make flash cards. 2. Practice with 2’s and 3’s by myself. 3. Have someone else practice with me. 4. Do a timed practice test. 4. Move on to the 4’s and 5’s. And so on.
Don’t ask “Do you have any homework?” This question is often the first words out of a parent’s mouth when they greet their children after school. “It’s good to see you. Hope you had a great day” is a more inviting, nurturing greeting. Then a little later, you can ask about homework.
Do praise effort over intelligence. When parents predominately praise intelligence, as in “You’re so smart. You have a great brain there,” children come to see intelligence as a fixed commodity. They think people are smart or not and there is not much anyone can do about it. Through effort, intelligence can be increased. To praise effort, say, “You worked on that Spanish until you learned to use all of the 15 color words,” or “You sure are working hard on that term paper/book report/science project. Looks like you’re going to have it done on time.”
Do invite your children to share what they have learned with you. “How about teaching me how to do that?” “Is there something you learned in school today that I might not know? I’d like to hear about it.” The fastest way to lock in learning is to teach a concept or skill to someone else. Have your children move their learning into their long-term memory by teaching it to you.
Do ask questions that require more than a one-word answer. “How was school today?” is going to get you the often-spoken “Fine.” “If you could change one thing about today, what would it be?” will likely be the start of a meaningful conversation. “Tell me about the most interesting/surprising/humorous thing that happened today” will invite your children to enter into an expanded dialog.
Do not say “If you get in trouble at school, you’ll be in trouble at home, too.” Having this conversation before inappropriate behavior has occurred sends the silent message that you expect inappropriate behavior to occur. In addition, it is applying double jeopardy. If your child is held accountable by the school personnel, you do not need to pile on extra consequences.
Do not say “This year will be a lot harder than last year” or “That’s going to be a tough class.” Sending ominous warnings creates an expectation of harder and tougher in your child’s mind. Do you really want your child going into the new school year thinking the class/grade/teacher will be hard? If it is hard, they will figure that out soon enough.
Do inquire “How did you choose to BE today?” instead of “What did you DO today?” Over time, this question helps children understand that they do indeed choose how to BE. They become conscious that their attitude and demeanor are controllable, and that they, themselves, are the controller.
Pick a couple of these suggestions to implement this week. You will know which ones.
This column was adapted fro an article by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. Their websites are: www.thomashaller.com or www.chickmoorman.com.