As a parent, there are certain rules that exist around what you can and cannot do once you've crossed the hallowed threshold of the school gates at pick-up. Now, these aren't school rules, these are the unspoken rules of engagement that exist between parent and child, such as:
Be pleased to see me at pick up but please don't fuss too much in front of my classmates. No kisses or cuddles unless I initiate it! Please don't ask me too many questions. This isn't the Spanish inquisition, I just went to school; it happens every day, Mom! And whatever you do, don't call me pet names in front of my friends.
You know the drill 😊
And so, I oblige... mostly😂but there are certain things that I will always do...and always say...
I will always greet my children with affection at the classroom door, even if it is simply a big smile and a ruffle of their hair so that they know I am happy to see them and can feel my genuine love for them. I will (almost) always give them the freedom to go and release their pent-up energy in the park, and then on the way home, I will ask them a few simple questions interspersed with general chit-chat.
When my eldest first started school, I used to ask him "How was your day?" And you guessed it...the answer was almost always a single word..."Good". No further details or explanation. And why is that? Because he was tired and my question didn't require any thought or effort, regardless of how his actual day had been or what had transpired good or bad during the course of those hours that he had spent away from home. I had asked a closed question. My question could be answered with a one-word answer. It was just easier. And so then I'd have to press further for more details about how he'd spent his day and it always felt like pulling teeth, and before you know it, there it was...The Spanish Inquisition! and I'd hit resistance...."Mommmm, I don't want to talk about it!" Aaah. I get it! This just created resistance.
And this is why I changed things up very quickly.
I now have 2 children ages 8 and 10 and very early in their start to primary school, as a result of the above, I came up with 3 primary statement questions designed to get the most information out of my children each day, with the least effort, mainly to enable me to gain insights into their emotional wellbeing, without them realising it.
1 - "Tell me about the best thing that happened at school today" or sometimes I reword it as "Tell me about the thing that made you the happiest today".
This gets them to share with me their feelings of pride at that moment the teacher praised them in class for a job well done, or the excitement of a new classmate, or making a new friend on the playground. The statement question requires them to come up with an answer. If I had asked, "did anything good happen today?" they could have shut it down with "no"...but there is always something good about every day and I challenge my children to find it by the way in which I phrase my statement/question. It's like a verbal gratitude journal.
2 - "Tell me about the worst thing that happened today" or sometimes I'll phrase it "Tell me about something that made you sad today".
Now, this is not to say that something awful happens every day at school, far from it, but it gets them to consider their day and search for the things that are not quite right in their world. Sometimes they will share with me an incident that they witnessed of bullying or that the teacher was in a bad mood. Sometimes you find out that they are being bullied or spent lunchtime alone. Sometimes it's just the fact that lunchtime flew by too quickly ;-) But always there is engagement, and that's a win for me.
3 - Who did you play with at lunchtime?
This helps me to gain a view of who resides within their close circle of friends, what they get up to, whether there have been any falling outs that I should be aware of, and whether perhaps there are days they eat alone, feel excluded, and unhappy.
Bonus questions that I throw in about once a week.
"What was your best lesson of today, and why?"
"What was your worst lesson of today, and why?"
These help me to get a really good feel of where my child is excelling or struggling, from their perspective, what subjects excite them, which ones bore them, where their passions lie.
And they genuinely engage with me, even if they are tired. Somehow these statement-type questions make them want to engage and talk about their experiences during the day, they act as useful prompts to trigger the memory of the incidents that make an impact on their big little lives.
And so each night, after reading to them or playing cards, I play wrestle with them, give them hugs, cuddles, and kisses, and say "goodnight my Lollipops / Bear / Angel" and "goodnight my Jack-a-bee/ Baby boy / Angel", and head to bed, happy in the knowledge that my children's lives are an open book, to me anyway, and that as a result, I can help them in ways that I couldn't have done so before.
Photo credit Lisa Chey