By Dr. Elizabeth M. Vantre
You learned through a parent volunteer that not only did your child’s class get a visit from the ice cream truck for good behavior, but your child got the only A+ on the science test. Why is it then when your child gets off the bus, you excitedly ask, “how was school,” only to receive a simple, “fine”? You follow with “What did you do today,” only to receive every mom’s favorite response “stuff.” The eight hours your child has been gone, a time that was likely filled with a plethora of new experiences, is summed up in one lonely syllable.
Try these tools to elicit more than one word responses from your child:
• Give your children a chance to decompress. Give them an opportunity to get a snack and run around for a bit before specifically asking them about their day. Tell them how great it is to see them when they bounce off of the bus and save the questions for later.
• Ask open-ended questions. Questions such as “how was school” or “how are you” lend themselves to one word responses. Try open-ended questions such as “tell me about school today” or “tell me about the playground at recess.” Refrain from following up with specific questions like “did you like your teacher,” but rather try open ones such as “tell me about your teacher.” When picking up my 8 year old from his first day at a brand new school recently, his older siblings peppered him with specific questions only to receive one-word general responses. When I interjected with “tell me about…” my twelve year old groaned, “Mom ALWAYS says that and I never know what to say.” While true that he may have to think a little more, he always relays more than a single syllabic response.
• Remain open, approachable and ready to listen. Kids will tell you the most surprising things during random moments. I have found that by being available to listen works wonders. After my 8 year old survived the inquisition from his siblings, it was actually several hours later that he opened up about his day. I was sitting on my bed reviewing some papers when he crawled up next to me and started to share thoughts about his teacher and new school. It can be quiet times like this one or in the car when kids are not face-to-face or it could be among the chaos of dinner prep and homework that kids tend to open up. Make every effort to listen without judging or jumping right in with specific questions, especially if your child is sharing something that is bothering him. Actively listen and acknowledge their feelings by saying things such as “That must have been a fun gym class or I’m sorry that happened in lunch, that must have been upsetting.”
• Games are great to get conversation flowing. Games such as “High/Low” or “Rose & Thorn” prompt kids to relay the best and worst part of their day. Our family goes around the dinner table nightly highlighting the positive (Roses) and negative happenings (Thorns) of our day. Sometimes Rose & Thorn will apply to more general happenings such as the highs and lows of summer or particular experiences like a birthday or camp.
Refer to Dr. Liz Vantre’s new book, Ready, Set, Parent: Dr. Moms’ Guide to Parenting, for more expert parenting advice
About Dr. Vantre
Dr. Elizabeth M. Vantre studied psychology at Wake Forest University and earned her doctorate in School Psychology from Temple University. She is the mother of four children (ages 7, 8, 10 and 12) and is currently employed as a psychologist at The Steward School in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Vantre has been helping parents find success at home for over fifteen years. She has been employed in a variety of settings including public and private schools, health care facilities, and juvenile detention centers.
Dr. Vantre has recently published the book Ready, Set, Parent: Dr. Moms’ Guide to Parenting with her co-author, fellow psychologist, and good friend, Dr. Samantha Dawson. With a combined 20 years of providing parenting advice both professionally and informally, raising 6 children (Liz has 4, Sam has 2), surviving 14 years of motherhood and enjoying 12 years of friendship, Liz and Sam have enough experience, insight, empathy, practical and proven strategies, real life case examples, and humorous anecdotes to fill a bookshelf.
In addition to speaking engagements regarding her book Ready, Set, Parent, she is also a contributor to the website Soccerparenting.com.