Sunday, August 01, 2004
Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.
How was your day?" "Fine." "What did you do?" "Nothing." Have you talked to your kids lately? Did you get a good 15 seconds and these two familiar words before they ran up the stairs, out the door or into their room?
Young teens can talk up a storm if they're on the phone with their friends, but questions from parents don't usually get the same attention. Parents become frustrated when kids don't share more, whether it's simple small talk or important nformation.
A child of this age generally has what he believes are more important things on his mind: a video game, a love interest or getting to a friend's house so they can go to the skate park. Answering irrelevant questions from parents simply does not fit the schedule. Don't take this rejection too personally. It is most often related to your child's developmental age rather than your parent-child relationship.
One mother's answer to this communication challenge is to make it part of the daily routine.
When her 11- and 13-year old come home from school each day, the first thing they must do is sit down and answer the "Seven Questions." When she started the routine, the kids balked. With time, they began volunteering information with smiles on their faces.
The "Seven Questions" provide a connecting point between parent and child; they provide a means of gathering important information about school and activities; they reinforce values, and offer kids the chance to practice their focusing and memory skills. Whether you ask the questions when they walk through the door or at dinner is not as important as the fact that you are asking.
Here is a sample question list: • What did you enjoy today? This question helps a child focus on the positive aspects of life.
• Name one thing you learned today. This helps a child focus and review what he has learned.
• Did anything bad happen today? This gives the parent information about incidents that might otherwise have gone unmentioned-name calling on the bus, being picked last for a team, a teacher's illness, losing a homework assignment.
• Is there anything I need to see or sign? This helps ensure that permission slips, announcements or invitations don't get left at the bottom of the backpack.
• Is there any feedback from your classes? This provides information on how the child is doing academically. They might report homework or test grades, or a compliment or comment made by a teacher.
• What's new in your friendships today? This reinforces the value of relationships and gives the parent information about social skills and more emotional issues.
• Did you witness or perform any act of kindness today? This instills the values of kindness and altruism and helps the child to become an active participant in both.
Some of the above questions may be appropriate for your own children, and some may not. The practice will be most helpful if your questions are tailored to meet the needs of your own parent-child relationship. Keep in mind, too, that kids should not be allowed to answer "no" or "nothing" to every question.
To come up with your own "Seven Questions," first ask yourself these three questions: • What information do I want from my children on a daily basis?
• What values do I want to instill or reinforce in my children?
• What parts of my children's lives do I want them to pay more attention to?
When you explain the new ritual to your kids, let them know why you want to do it and why
you chose the questions you did. You may end up with four questions, or eight. The number doesn't matter as long they help you get the answers you want and reinforce the values you want to reinforce.
Finally, be realistic about your child's capacity for answering questions. Your list should have enough questions to meet your needs, but not so many that it is overwhelming to your child. Depending on your child's ability and circumstances, you might add or subtract questions each semester, or change questions to better fit your needs over time.
Be realistic about the time for this ritual as well. If you're not there when your kids get home from school, your best "Seven Questions" time may be on the ride home from afterschool care, during dinner or right after. Try some different options to determine what's best for you. Keep in mind, however, that waiting until bedtime might make it too late for discussing concerns that need attention.
Not all young teens will embrace this idea initially, but remember this is a time when there is often a contradiction between what kids say and what they need. Their egos may be telling them to push away from you to gain independence, but their hearts know that they still need reassurance that you are there for them at all times.
Rituals such as the "Seven Questions" can provide structure and focus and send the message that they are important to you.
Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.