There is a reason for me to write this column in an epistolary form. I want this to be a dialogue that we indulge in equally: thinking and talking about the small-big things that makes parenting (for you) and childhood (for children) a mixed experience of joy, fulfilment, dilemma, anxiety and many other indescribable emotions. The discourse should always be two-sided; the minds must meet and transact ideas; there must be space to agree and differ, and through this continued process, bridges must be built.
It is so in our parleys with our children too. Most parents I know are unanimous in their opinion about having meaningful conversations with their children, and they prioritise it in their parenting stylebook. However, what many parents don’t know is the ‘what, when and how’ of having chats with their children.
It’s not about studies alone
Are you in the habit of asking what transpired in school or what the teachers did within 15 minutes of children stepping into the house? If yes, consider this. Children tend to feel choked with questions like this. It takes time for them to first recall the sequence of events and then to regurgitate it. Instead, ask them how their day was once they settle in. And depending on how they answer, ask them what was interesting or boring in school that day.
It is curious how many children think that a query about their day stipulates that they give answers related to studies alone, and they give measured academic responses about exams, lessons and homework. While as parents we are keen to know what goes on in the classes, it is not what the conversations should be chiefly about. Our chats with them are not just to know what is happening in school, but also to know what is going through their minds.
Tell me about the fun you had
As parents you’ll know that more often than not, children have nothing to share other than academic news. Is it because nothing else happens in school – not a moment of laughter or fight, not an instance of fun or falling down? Either they don’t feel their small moments are worth being shared or they don’t feel confident enough to disclose it to us. Either way, the onus is on us to let them know that our interests are not in their studies alone.
Every time my students begin to speak about exams or studies to my question about their day, I respond with a swift, “Hey, tell me about something more fun. We can discuss studies later. Anything that made you happy today? Or anything that made you disappointed?” That’s when the little things trickle out. It is in the crevices that their emotions lurk, afraid of spilling out.
Keep conversations free and flexible
While younger children are more open about sharing details, they tend to get slightly hushed as they grow into their teens. They learn to sort things that can be safely shared from the ‘secrets’ that need to be guarded. It is in these years that the dialogues must become more open-ended and flexible. The talks are then not just about ‘what’ they do, but about ‘how’ they feel.
The best way to get their thoughts to unspool is by letting them know that you not only listen keenly, but you also feel them intensely, because, regardless of age, happiness and sadness feel the same to all. Say this to them and see how the dialogues become fluent and fruitful. Until next time, happy parenting.
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