How to Engage your Child in Conversation

Angi Evans
The power to question is the basis of all human progress. ~ Indira Gandhi

We fill the first weeks of September with many activities at Harbor Day School. We start with the Back-to-School picnic (thank you Student Enrichment Committee of the Parent Council), and then have Back-to-School Nights followed by outdoor education trips for the seventh and eighth graders. With October starting, the academic year now settles into its familiar rhythm. We hope that you have restored school year practices such as establishing homework times and places, having family dinners, abiding by regular bedtimes, and following morning routines.

Many of you surely have time during the afternoon or evening when you ask your child about their school day. Last fall, psychologist and author Dr. Michael Thompson encouraged HDS parents to avoid what he calls “interviewing for pain.” He described a situation where a child shares with their parents that their friend, let’s call the friend Spike, was mean to them at recess. The parents make suggestions to their child about how to address Spike the next day. The child goes to school, plays with a different friend, and possibly forgets about the previous day’s slight. However, the child gets home and immediately faces a question from their parents, “how were things with Spike? Was Spike nice to you?” This child, who had a great day, is suddenly reminded of the previous bad day, and the hurt feelings rise again. Dr. Thompson shared this common scenario and suggested that we avoid “interviewing for pain” at the end of the day. Surely your child will tell you if they again had problems with Spike without your prompting.

When you discuss the day with your child, here are some questions to consider in addition to, or in lieu of, “how was your day?

• How did you help your teacher today?
• What made you smile or laugh today?
• Did you make anyone smile or laugh?
• Did anything surprise you today? What?
• When did you compliment someone?
• Did anything seem hard today? How did you solve that?
• When did you have a lot of energy? When were you tired?
• What was easy in school today?
• What are you reading? How did you choose that book?
• Did you see anyone from your HDS family?
• What do you like about where you sit in class? Where would you like to sit?
• Who would you like to get to know better at school? Why?
• What skill are you working to acquire or improve?
• Is there anything you will do differently tomorrow?
• Who did you thank today?
• When did you feel proud?

Remember that for some children, binary questions will yield disappointing results. I still deal with frustrating answers from my 22-year old son if I don’t ask questions that require a multisyllabic response!

Gradatim ad summum,
Angi Evans

Harbor Day School

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Harbor Day School is a co-educational private independent K-8 school established in 1952.