It’s the end of the day. Your home from work and your children are home for school. It’s time to connect. You want to know how their day went and whether they encountered any problems. What do you ask them?
- How was school?
- When are you going to do your homework?
- What did you get on the test?
- What did you learn?
I suggest these are the wrong questions. It might seem to you that you’re interested and engaged in their day, but to them it’s more than likely to sound like an interrogation.
As adults we think of school days as relatively carefree and a great time to learn and grow.
But children don’t necessarily see it that way. It’s just something they have to do. Sometimes, they’re dreading the day ahead – for instance, music might be more interesting to them than sport; they have to follow orders; they’re trying hard not ‘stand out’ for any reason; and they’re also trying to learn something new.
When they come home, they need a break. They need to know ‘here is a place where I am accepted and loved for who I am’.
As a teacher, I had to discipline myself not to ask these questions of my children. Not only did I have the normal parental curiousity, but I was also making a judgement about the value of what they were doing in the classroom.
It was only when I was talking with another parent of a boy in my class a few years ago, that I realised I was doing the wrong thing. I was heaping more expectation on them when they just wanted time to chill.
Here is why you shouldn’t ask these questions.
1. What if school was terrible? Your child may or may not want to tell you because she has a picture of exactly how you will react with her answer. Does she want to tell you the truth and have you get upset and immediately ask more questions? Or does she want to make you happy so you won’t do the above. Even if it all went well, she doesn’t want to go through the details of the day.
2. Your child hears that all you care about is homework and the marks they get. Is that true?
There’s so much evidence around about homework and what not to do: the first is, don’t do it for them and the second is, don’t police it, just be there to help, discuss or make suggestions if needed. The best thing is to establish ground rules about homework at the beginning of each year, and allow your child to determine the best time and place to do homework. Keep it as consistent as possible and ask each day if she would like your help. Let her know when you’re available and when not.
3. Asking about how they do on a test sends the message that your approval comes as fail, pass or distinction also.
If your child did well, he will be thrilled to tell you without the question. If he did poorly, what does he expect your response to be? Will he get grounded, a privilege removed, extra homework time piled on? If he got a D, do you get a D in parenting?
4. Talking about what your child is learning is a subject worthy of discussion - at a later time. Do be involved in your child’s learning, let her know you care and are interested in what she learns, learn along with her, but save the talk until she brings it up or until it is a logical discussion during homework time.
When your kids get home from school, or you from work, let them know that home is a stress-free, safe place. It doesn’t mean they don’t have chores, or can get out of doing homework, but they also need to know it’s a haven, a place where they can refuel and relax.