Why Won’t My Child Tell Me About School?

Do you ever feel like your child won’t tell you about his day?  Or that he tells you the same thing every day? Don’t worry.  You are not alone.  Parents have a notoriously hard time prying information from their children.   I can’t promise it will get any easier.  In fact, it will probably continue right into the teenage and college years!

Yet, when children are young, it’s not that they won’t tell you.   It is often that they can’t tell you!  Children’s brains and their ability to recall past events are different in early childhood than they are in adulthood. If your child is 5 or younger, it is highly unlikely that he or she is developmentally capable of telling you about his or her day.  Then, when they reach that developmental threshold and are capable, they no longer want to! Unless, you have a few tricks up your sleeve!

Alison Gopnik, a renowned child neuropsychologist, discusses memory and retelling at length in her work, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life.   Children under 5 cannot engage in total recall.  If you ask your child, “what did you do today,” they will generally respond with answers that are routine: the things that happen every day.  Snack. Played Outside. Ate Lunch.  Beyond that, they won’t give you too much.

However, young children do respond to “cued recall”.  If you give them cues, then they can remember more.   “Did you work at a table or on a rug?”  “Did you work with a friend or alone?”

Surprisingly, it takes similar tactics for older children.  As children move into the second plane of development (ages 6-12), it isn’t that they can’t tell you what they did all day.  They don’t want to.  They start to feel much like adults do when they are questioned which is on the spot!  They are aware of morality now and have a larger view of their role in their community so now they may be worrying about if their responses are right or wrong.   For older children, you may want to avoid questions all together.  Instead, talk about your day.  Tell them that you had lunch with a friend, or worked on a really big project that you are nervous about.  They may take the opportunity to relate and share more information.  Additionally, elementary age children enjoy engaging in philosophical conversations and discussing current events.

Of course, nothing is perfect.  And even with the right cues or feeding them endless information about your life, hoping they may relate, you may still be met with crickets.  That is ok.  Each child is different.  Be patient.  Don’t push your child.   They will only clam up more!   Instead, be there for your child. Accept their interests.  Talk about what they want to talk about.  If it’s all Elsa all the time or all soccer this and soccer that, go with it.   If they believe you will listen about their interests, they will feel comfortable when they need to talk to something that really matters.

In the meantime, here a few cues to try:

·      Did you work with a friend?

·      Who did you sit with at lunch?

·      Did you work with water?

·      Did you do art today?

·      Did you work at a table or on rug?

·      Do you know any sounds? (as opposed to do you know any letters…we tend to call them sounds)

·      Did you count today?

·      Did you sing today?

·      Did you work with a map?

You can always log into Transparent Classroom for more ideas.  Check out some of the lessons your child has had and ask questions about how your child does a particular work.

Older children:

·      I ate lunch with a friend today.  We had pizza.

·      I am working on a really difficult project

·      I had a bad/good/funny/sad day

·      One of my co-workers upset me today because…

·      My boss told me I did a great job on…

·      I saw on the news…(assuming it’s age appropriate, which sadly is not always the case!)

You get the idea, right?? The key is to leave it open ended.  Resist the urge to turn it into a question. And, keep at it.  It might take a while!


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