Time after school is usually a rush to have a snack, do homework, fit in some play time, hurry through dinner and watch TV or play video games before bed time routines.
Valuable time really spent between parents and children enjoying each other and listening to the day go by the wayside. Even a quick, “How was your day?” though well-meaning usually results in such a curt response that parents don’t engage with their kids. How can this be remedied?
7 Tips for Engaging with Your Kids After School
1. Pick them up from school when possible. Even if you are just taking them to another activity, you have time in the car to chat. Turn all cell phones off and you have time to chat about what’s on your child’s mind. Something may have just happened at school or their thoughts may be on where they are going and how they feel about it or what they want to do when they get home, but you’re hearing about it and commenting supportively and nonjudgmentally.
2. Surprise them with a special treat. Take them for ice cream, or bowling or to other favorite things they like to do. Suggest they call a friend spontaneously and invite them for dinner.
This lets them know you want to be there for them and all the time you are listening attentively. If they say “no” to any ideas, that’s totally fine. You’re talking about what their plan are and hearing about their day in detail. This is what you want – some real conversation.
3. Have dinner organized, so there’s no extra time needed to put dinner together most nights of the week. If this becomes routine, then they will go along with it. It doesn’t have to take more than 20-30 minutes, but that’s precious talking time. Don’t lecture about chores cleaning up or eating properly, just enjoy their presence and they’ll appreciate it.
4. That messy child with food all over her mouth can be forgotten because in the priority of things, it just isn’t important compared to having a chat about what her thoughts and feelings are that day. Don’t expect them to be grateful that you planned and served the meal, just get the conversation in and you’ve had a victory.
5. Make sure all cell phones are turned off and the TV is also off during dinner so this wonderful conversation is possible. When this becomes the rules of the house, no lectures are needed.
6. Think of something fun coming up that you can begin the conversation with if they are reticent to tell about their day. Think of various ways to engage them.
7. If all they have are complaints, listen closely. Complaints are conversation and you’re learning their thoughts, feelings and ideas. Respond to them kindly and ask for more information. They’ll be surprised you want to hear complaints. Keep your voice low. Absolutely no yelling.
If these ideas don’t work the first time, don’t give up. Your kids will feel your good intentions and interest in them. They’ll know that you care and want to hear from them. They may begin to tell you some problems they’re facing so be sure to catch on to all the cues that something is brewing without pressing them too hard for whatever that is. It may be a look on their faces, a certain body gesture that tips you off to something is troubling them. Don’t tell them the cue that will just make them self-conscious, but ask if something might be bugging them.
The idea is to let them know that you like them and enjoy being with them even if they’re in lousy moods (that you want to hear about, too.) Care about their ideas, thoughts and feelings. You’ll get to know what their social life is like, how they feel about their school work, and they even might want to hear about your day.
Inch by inch this becomes part of your life together. Don’t expect rapid changes or you might be disappointed and want to give up. Give yourself and them a chance to have more time together.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Familius, and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more great parental guidance: http://lauriehollmanphd.com.