The question, which rarely brings forth what is expected, yet as parents we often cling to it unawares. Why do we feel a strong urge to say it, and why doesn’t it work for our children?

Parents want connection

When our child spends most of the day at school it’s natural that we want to chit-chat when we meet again. Sharing experiences, challenges and joys. On one hand we might feel guilty by not spending more time with them during the day and we would like to make up for it as soon as possible to find harmony again. On the other hand we might also feel the lack of control over our child’s experience which we want to be responsible for. Our inner voice could sound like: “What could have happened during this time? What if I missed something important? How could I help, discipline or teach them if I don’t even know what happened there? Am I a bad parent if I didn’t even ask my child? We want to feel that even though we spent most of the day apart, our relationship is deep and honest. We love each other, we are important to each other and we can share everything.

So, our goal is to connect fast and continue where we left off. Where is the problem then?

The tragedy of “How was school?”

Why does the initiative fail right away? In most cases we get responses like: “Okay”, “Good”, “Normal”, “Nothing special”, etc. Are we satisfied by these answers? Of course not. We miss the part of opening up, being honest, letting us into our children’s state of mind. Besides that, our open-ended question – which we believe will lead to a long conversation – gets closed down in a second. So we have to think about another one…

Why is the kid not opening up?

First of all, let’s think about how much time we give to our child to arrive in the atmosphere (car, home, us) before asking? Not many of us can actually endure long pauses and silence, so in most cases it is like only a few seconds. However, the child has to switch to a completely different role meanwhile.

At school, kindergarten, nursery, children fill in different roles than at home. In the institutions kids learn that they can not show too much weakness, doubts, lacks, anger, etc. because they are expected to know (learn) how to behave. Sometimes even at nursery schools teachers cannot provide as (emotionally) safe of environment as the parents at home. Moreover, children also need to equip themselves against their peers to stay on the racetrack, earning love and recognition from them. They cannot jump out of this role in a second. Even if they have an intimate, trustworthy relationship with their parents, it takes time to take off the armor and breathe free again. And what if they don’t get full acceptance at home… they will need another wardress…

ME instead of THEM

Another mistake, we often make while trying to connect, is that we don’t recognize when our approach is more about meeting our own needs than the child’s. (of course, without any intention)

First of all, we want our child to open up in order to feel our parental role is safe and recognized after spending so much time away. On the other hand, there is also a possibility of us hardly handling pauses and silence. Our inner voice might start coming up with self-doubting thoughts straight away like: “He might think, I don’t even care what is up with him”; “Finally we are together and I’m not showing my attention towards her”; What if they hate me and do not want to share anything with me?”; “I’m sure other kids are already chatting with their parents”; “I should say something now”… And last but not least, our questions often give the same hint which is “Tell me everything!” – leading to “nevermind”, “whatever”, “you don’t get it” responses – instead of “I’M LISTENING.

There is no me, only THEM

The criterion for a successful connection is that we take “me” out of the picture. Recognise your own needs but take it to the side and try to tune in with the child. To do this, pause and silence is necessary. For the child to feel our support, acceptance, protection, words are not needed. Especially for children, as they are still more attuned to emotional vibes. Let them arrive in “the safety of home” feeling. Just watch and listen! Pay attention to their breathing (may report it), to what they do, to what they look at (without a word). Give them 5-10 minutes first. If possible, let them initiate a conversation. If not, ask something but just to check if they needed more time.

And the most important, if once they start talking, sharing, then just listen without any advice, teaching lessons or praises. Maybe you can acknowledge their feelings but without you in the picture.

Because children need one thing mostly: to feel seen and heard by us and themselves.

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