Why it’s hard to get kids to open up about school
‘“How was school?” is a big question. It’s even hard for adults to sum up a whole day. A simple, one word answer, like “Fine” or “OK” can feel much easier. Some children may view their school experiences as being private and might not want to share them. This is a normal part of development, but your child still needs to know you’re there when they feel ready to talk.
The benefits of getting kids to open up
It’s important to talk about schools for lots of reasons. First and foremost, it shows you’re interested in your child’s life and also that you value education. It can also improve behaviour and achievement. When you’re in touch with how your child feels about school – friendships, teachers, school work – you’re much more likely to see problems and deal with them before they get out of hand. Here are some helpful and practical tips for talking to kids about school.
Know when to let it go
Some kids love talking about school. With others, it’s like pulling teeth. This might be because there are things going on that are upsetting them, like bullying, or they’re struggling in a particular subject. Even if your child usually shares their day with you, there will be days when they don’t want to talk. It’s up to you to sense the mood and pick the right moment. Sometimes kids, just like adults, don’t feel like talking. If this is the case, stop asking questions and leave it for another time.
Keep questions open-ended
Positive and open-ended questions about different parts of the day can be helpful to get your child talking. If your question can be answered with just a yes or no, that may be all you’ll get.
Examples of some open-ended questions are:
- What projects are you working on?
- What was the most exciting thing that happened at school today?
- What displays are in your classroom right now?
- What’s the most popular thing to do at recess?
Another way to encourage your child to open up is by sharing your own school memories. This approach works as a natural conversation starter. For example, “I remember doing pottery and painting with my art teacher. What are you and your class learning about?”
These sorts of questions will encourage your child to talk, but don’t expect every question to result in a long, detailed answer. The best outcome is to have lots of little, consistent conversations over a period of time.
Tips for talking with primary school children
- Don’t start with question time as soon as you pick up your child. Just spend some time together first.
- The right time to talk might be while you’re doing something else, like walking the dog, making dinner together or doing a puzzle.
- Give your child your full attention to show you’re a good listener. If you do a good job in those moments, they will come to you later for the hard stuff.
- Take whatever your child tells you seriously.
- Share a few details from your own day. This can help teach kids that everyone has good days and bad days, even adults.
- Don’t panic if your child’s behaviour changes overnight once they start school. Children learn new things from their friends and teachers, and it’s all part of them developing a unique identity.
Tips for talking with secondary school children
- Your teenager might want more privacy and time alone, which can make it harder to talk about school. This isn’t the end of your relationship. By getting distance from you, your child learns to become a more independent individual.
- As your child gets closer to the end of high school, conversations might involve future plans.
- If you’re worried about something in particular, you could try talking to other adults who know your child, contacting the school or getting in touch with other professionals.
- Stay calm around tricky topics. Be supportive with both your body and verbal language. Show your child that you value an honest and open relationship. If your child would rather talk to someone else, that’s ok. Suggest a trusted relative, friend or school counsellor.
- As your child gets older, you are still very much needed for emotional support. Keep up the open, non-judgemental listening and try not to be the eternal problem-solver.
- The car is an ideal place to talk with teenage children because they don’t have to make eye contact with you.
- Pay attention to body language, which can also communicate a lot.
If you can make talking to your child a positive experience, you’re more likely to keep open communication between you and your child as they grow up and progress through school.