It dawned on me recently that the drive home from school and subsequent hour after were getting grumpier.
I’d read all sorts of advice on getting teenagers to talk about their day, but I have a 1st grader. I thought I had a solid 6-7 years more before I had to worry about this?! He’d say he doesn’t remember what happened, recess was the best part of the day, but he can’t tell me what he did all day. I tried all the tricks that I could find online and in books. I could not for the life of me have a non-combative conversation that ended with a happy and positive return home. Sure, an hour or so later things would be fine, but I was mentally exhausted by then!
So, as I’m sure most moms have done in a moment of completely-exasperated-weakness, I decided to flip the script. I wasn’t going to ask how was school, what did you learn about today, or who did you play with. I wouldn’t bring up the negative, like- did you get in trouble. This was going to be an entirely different approach and it was going to have to start with the drive to school in the morning.
Last January I made the decision that my theme for 2017 was going to be kindness. I wanted to find ways to insert more kindness into my life, and focus less on the stress and frustrations. I started with working on my own patience and changing the way I was looking at different situations. I’m embarrassed to say it took me a solid nine months to realize that this was a great way for me to change our after school dialogue too.
One morning I told my son that instead of talking about the behaviors we had been working on, I wanted to do something different. I introduced the idea of kindness in relation to how we discuss being nice. I asked him to come up with things I do for him that he thought were nice. Then I asked him to think of things he could do to be kind to other people. Things like make food, do laundry, give lots of hugs were his first ideas. Saying nice things, helping someone with a problem, and asking a friend to play with him were his ideas for things he could do.
I was impressed with how quickly he could come up with ways he could be kind to others, and shocked that it took me so long to have this conversation. I explained that I was going to ask him if he was able to be kind to a friend when I picked him up from school. He seemed excited for the new challenge. Even better, when I picked him up that afternoon he was eager to tell me the things he did. He picked up a pencil his friend dropped, complimented someone’s haircut, and commented on some cool shoes a classmate was wearing.
Suddenly he was talking to me! Voluntarily! This led to him telling me more about what happened at school that day, and what his favorite part of the day was. He also mentioned something silly his friend said. Of course, two minutes later we were on to some other completely unrelated topic, but guess what?? He wasn’t grumpy! Hallelujah, my child was talking to me. And the best part was that when we got home he was in a good mood. We weren’t focusing on negative things, and we could enjoy some time together before the rush of the evening began.
So, now I’m curious. What are some other topics I can use to encourage a positive attitude? Has anyone tried anything similar? I know a lot of moms who have lamented about the after school blues and given up on trying to talk about their kids’ days, but I would love to find new ways to engage him and keep the dialogue going!