My child now spends over 32 hours a week in school. I think that’s a lot of hours. Already, I’m having to work hard to connect with him and make our precious few hours between pick-up time and bedtime as meaningful as possible whilst at the same time attending to all his basic needs. But another thing that strikes me is that I have very little idea what he gets up to during these 32 hours he spends away from me every week. And he simply won’t tell me. He claims to have amnesia on the subject.
Puzzled and slightly concerned by this, I spoke to several other parents in the playground and most (but, interestingly, not all) reported a similar phenomenon.
It seems my child sees his home and school life as two separate worlds, and wishes to keep them separate. He won’t even join me in writing or drawing in his “Home/School Communication book” – a book the school have provided us with in which we can communicate information about our child, their interests, what they have been doing at home etc.
However, not happy with being shut out entirely from this percentage of my child’s life, and wishing to ensure he has a means to express anything that might be bothering him, I have found various ways to get small amounts of information out of him. Here’s some of them:
Play with him.
It’s amazing what we can learn about our children and about what is going on in their heads by just playing with them. I find ‘let’s pretend’ games best for this. “Let’s play schools” can lead to all sorts of information being revealed whilst we act out some of the daily routines, and some of the events of that day – incidents that occurred in the playground that he may need to work through, things he may have learnt or heard or seen that he needs to explore some more, to ask more questions about, to get reassurance. Children really do express themselves through play, and joining him in this means I’m joining him in his world. What better way to find out more about this world?
Create a special ‘connection time’.
Choose a time and make it into a ritual. When I have my child all tucked up in bed, it’s dark, I’m cuddling him, we’re feeling close, and there are no distractions, I often take this opportunity to ask him what was the best and worst thing that happened today. He doesn’t always tell me, but often he does. Interestingly, he’ll often tell me the worst thing but not the best thing. I guess the worst thing may be bothering him, he needs to get it off his chest, or seek reassurance. Sometimes he wants to whisper it in my ear, almost as if he’s fearful of something.
Sometimes I find if we turn things into a game my child’s more willing to open up. So I’ll pick up a teddy or other soft animal toy and make it talk and ask him questions. It’s amazing what he’ll tell teddy but not me directly. Sometimes he initiates this himself, handing me a soft toy and saying ‘Make him talk’, then I know there’s something he needs to tell me!
In their book, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish warn that bombarding a child with questions as soon as he gets home isn’t the best approach. Just letting him know you’re glad to see him is better. Talk can come later when you’re reconnected.
“Too many questions can be experienced as an invasion of one’s private life. Children will talk about what they want to talk about when they want to talk about it.”
They also give advice on how to listen and respond when a child does start talking to you. The golden rules include listening with full attention, validating feelings, not trying to fix things, and not making judgements. A child will be more inclined to tell their parent about a problem, or about something that went wrong for them that day if they know they’re not going to get judged and blamed. Usually children just want someone to listen, and acknowledge their feelings.
I know I must accept my child’s growing independence, but at the same time I know I must remain emotionally available for him. Staying connected with him and having some idea of what’s going on in his world will help me to do this.