Don't get me wrong, the behaviors got easier to deal with, but the issues got deeper, e.g., not fitting in, being left out, bullying, etc. I think sometimes we as adults forget how hard it can be to navigate the elementary school years from a kid's point of view. I add that last phrase as often, we see these issues as "nothing big" to quote a well intentioned dad I know. Of course, to our kids these issues are huge. Navigating the social strata of the school environment can make the remainder of their school experiences a blessing or a curse.
The question is, how do we help our kids through tough times in school? I think the biggest road block is finding out what is going on at school. Oh sure, they will tell us about the comings and goings of kids and who got in trouble during casual conversations in the car or at the dinner table. But how often do they share the things that are worrying them most? It takes a conscious effort on our part to seek this information out as well as finesse to do so in a way that makes our children open to sharing their biggest fears.
Case in point, Thing One has been in a funk mood for about a week. He has just been more emotional and somewhat sullen or melancholy. It was apparent to my husband and I that he was stressed about something. It took one of our pillow time talks (which admittedly has not been occurring as frequently as they should) and some well worded questions to open the flood gates. So many worries were swirling around that little head! After about an hour of listening and empathizing, he was able to get out all his worries and I am happy report that my little guy is back to his happy self.
So, I thought I would share some tips on how to get inside the mind of school aged kids. One of the best ways to do so is to ask open ended questions. I know, this sounds like common sense, but it can be tricky.
- For example, "what's wrong" is often followed by "I don't know." Not that it works all the time, but sometimes you can follow that up with a trick question such as "If you did know, what would it be?" This question often throws kids off so much that they are able to answer it.
- Ask them about their worries or concerns. This type of questioning is a great way to get kids talking. Phrasing such as "I wonder if you have any worries or concerns about anything?" If they seem confused, it often helps to clarify that question such as "You know, worries or concerns. Like this week, I am worried about whether I am going to be able to get everything I need to get done before the party at our house on Friday." You can ask the question according to location, e.g., "I wonder if there is anything that worries or concerns you at school" or "at home" or "during baseball practice," etc. Kids carry worries and concerns just as we do.
- Be a good listener. We often want to go into "fix it" mode or solve the problem for them which often falls on deaf ears. Imagine telling a co-worker about a really concerning question and they go right into "Well, all you have to do is..." Chances are you are going to feel that they don't get you or understand what you are feeling. The key to being a good listener is to be empathetic. If your child says they are being left out of games at recess, follow up with an empathetic statement, e.g., "That must make you feel lonely?" When kids realize that we "get them," they are going to be more willing to share those worries and concerns and to consider any suggestions we might have for them on how to handle the situation. Of course this works with grown ups too. One of my favorite sayings is "People don't care what you know until they know that you care."
- On that last point, ask permission to share advice. Nobody likes feeling lectured, especially our kids. If you have some advice to share, ask them if they want to hear it first. Nine times out of ten, they will say "yes." By asking permission, you are letting them know that you want to help but respect their right to solve the problem on their own.
- Keep in mind that as parents, kids often don't get that we had the same experiences in school. When we try to share the "when I was a kid" stories, they often shut down. Despite this, your childhood experiences can be helpful especially if you share the stories with a twist. For example, instead of using "when I was a kid" make it about "I once new a kid who..." Sometimes it is easier for our children to envision other kids having similar experiences versus their parents who they see as invincible.
So, how do you get inside the mind of your child? Any tips or strategies that you have found helpful? Please share your suggestions with all!