Much of what we do in children’s ministry involves equipping parents with tools for their most important job: parenting. Communication is a key aspect of parenting, so it’s important that we provide opportunities for parents to learn to communicate more effectively with their children. What a better time to do this than the beginning of the school year?
It's the season of school supplies and schedules. Social media is filled with first day photos, and stores are a sea of golden yellow and character-themed backpacks. It's time for Back to School. While this season can be exciting for children (and especially their parents), parents can quickly get back into the day-to-day rut of asking How was school today? and receiving the dreaded answer: Fine.
Start the Conversation
It leaves parents wondering about what their children do all day and why they have so little to say about it. So how do we, as children’s ministers and parents, help our children talk about school? Let me suggest some guided questions, to encourage our children to spill the beans about what they do for nearly 40 hours per week. Instead of asking How was your day?, try asking questions like these:
- What was your favorite thing about school today?
- Who did you sit with at lunch?
- What friends/classmates were you excited to see?
- What was trending at school today?
- Tell me something funny that happened at school.
- What did you play at recess (or at PE/Physical Education)?
- Did you act like Jesus today? How?
- What is your favorite word on the spelling list?
- Which is your best subject? How do you know that you're good at it?
Ask Probing Questions
Let's say that that the child has had a rough day. It's important that we allow our child the chance to be vulnerable and that we provide a safe place for her to talk about how she feels, even when emotions are less than happy. Here are some ways to get her talking about it in order to work through the tough emotions:
- When did you start to feel sad?
- Did someone say something that hurt your feelings today?
- Who are the popular kids in your class? Do you feel a part of that group? What do you have in common? What makes you different?
- Tell me the worst part of your day.
- Which is your hardest subject in school? Do you think you're good at it?
- How did you feel when ________? (Insert the less-than-happy thing that the child mentioned.)
It's important to validate our children's feelings. We want to let them know that we care, and that their problems are real problems, no matter how small they may seem to grown-ups. To validate a child's feelings, say things like:
- I'm so sorry that you felt that way.
- That must have really hurt.
- Wow, that would make me sad, too.
- What a mean thing to say! (if your child mentions something mean that was said to him/her)
- That's a normal feeling, baby. It's okay to feel sad.
- When you feel down, remember that your family (and God) loves you dearly. Picture us giving you a big hug. You are never alone.
Now let's move to problem-solving. After we validate, there may be some guided questions that can help our children come up with solutions to their own problems. First offer your help and then ask if she would like you to brainstorm ideas with her. While we can't control what happens in our child's school day, we can help her consider solutions to make the next day a better one. Here are some suggestions:
- What might be a good way to ask for help when you get stumped on a problem?
- Are there lonely children that you might be able to help? How can you offer your help?
- What might be a good response to someone who says something mean? (That hurt my feelings. I don't like when you say that to me. Those are mean words.)
- What can you do tomorrow to have a better day?
With some practice, we can help parents learn effective ways to talk about their child’s school day. When this happens, we help families develop strong communication skills, which will build a foundation for talks about so many things. Who knows? Our children may even begin to talk about their school day, as well as their concerns, hurts, and fears, without even hearing the question: How was your day?