Parentwise: Back to school questions

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016 7:2AM

Five things never to ask your child right after school: How was school today? What do you have for homework? When are you going to do your homework? What did you get on the test? What did you learn today?

You want to interact and make connection. Your kids do too, but not in the way you might think. You’ve missed them, want to know what they did in your absence, how they got along at school, or if they had any problems. But to your kids, questions feel like an interrogation.

They have just spent a long hard day meeting (or not) expectations, doing things they don’t want to do, following orders, coping as best they can and hopefully working hard and learning. They need a break. They need to know here is the place where I am completely accepted and loved. They need to chill.

Each of these five questions is filled with an expectation.

1. What if school was terrible? Your child may or may not want to tell you because he has a picture of exactly how you will react with his answer. Does he want to tell you the truth and have you get upset and immediately ask more questions? Or does he want to make you happy so you won’t do the above. Even if it all went well, he doesn’t want to go through the details of the day.

Safest answer: “Fine.”

2. Homework is the last thing she wants to think about right now. Going through her head with this question is: Do you expect me to work all the time? You must think I can’t do anything right. Get off my back. Your child has many more important things on her mind once she is out of school and none of them have to do with homework.

Safest answer: “I don’t have any.”

3. Your child hears that all you care about is homework and grades. Is that true? Make sure you don’t have to police your child’s homework time. Establish ground rules about homework at the beginning of each year. With your guidance, 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.

Safest answer: “Later.”

4. Asking about grades on tests sends the message to your child that your approval comes in grades as well. 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?

Safest answer: “We didn’t get it back.”

5. 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.

Safest answer: “Nothing.”

When your kids get off the bus, climb in the car or come through the door, welcome them back home. A big smile, a hug, a touch and an “I’m so glad to see you” or “Hello, my darling” will give your kids the grounding that home provides with no expectations. Your unconditional happiness in greeting them will create the stress-free, safe haven they need to refuel and relax… and will set up the way the rest of the day goes.

A happy greeting can wipe clean any negative emotions left from an earlier conflict that morning. If there was difficulty at school, your child will know that the problem is over for now and he can be himself.

There is plenty of time for what you want to know. Be patient and meet your child where he is at the end of a long day.


Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed,. is the director of Connective Parenting. She founded The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough. Email her at bh@bonnie harris.com.