We are now heading towards the end of February, the holiday season lingering in our memories, and the return to childcare, Kindergarten and school now well underway. For many years I’ve witnessed families collect their children in the afternoons, eager to know what they “did” during the day. Of course, our dedicated educators provide an overview of each child’s day, but how do we, as parents, encourage children to share with us what they did while we have been away?
It’s a common problem for parents to ask their children “What did you do today?” to be answered with “nothing” or “just played”. This often can cause frustration for families, and I even recall parents asking me over the years “He/she said they didn’t do anything yesterday. Is that true?”
Of course, when you look at the carefully planned environment in our studios it would be impossible to not do anything at all. Further to this, our responsive educators ensure all children actively engage in the educational program. This may involve active play with peers or finding a little quiet time just to “be” for a period on their own. In the busy world today, parents are often eager for their child to be “learning” every moment of the day. However, finding a quiet space just to “be” is an enormous learning opportunity when you consider many adults spend large sums of money on mindfulness workshops or yoga retreats to learn skills in relaxation.
So how do you encourage your children to engage in open dialogue about their day?
When my daughter was three, I started a simple dinner time ritual. I didn’t give that much thought to it at the time, except for the fact that I knew open-ended questions were more likely to elicit more than a one-word response from my daughter. It started one evening when I asked her “What made you happy today?”. I can’t remember exactly when I first asked her this question, and I certainly can’t recall what she told me. What I do remember is that it worked, and her answer provided me with an insight into her day and a way to connect which ultimately was what I was wanting as a parent.
As my strategy worked, I decided to keep asking the same question each night, to give my tired brain a rest and still increase the communication between us. Each night at the dinner table I would ask the same question, she would respond, and then ask me the same question. This ritual became a part of our daily routine for many years. I may have read it in a parenting magazine or a blog, or I may have just thought of it myself? I really can’t recall why I started asking her this question each evening.
Each evening I was very curious to hear what had happened in her day, and this question also gave me the perspective of her inner thoughts. Rather than just sharing what she had done, or who she had played with, I got to understand her feelings and reactions rather than just a list of routine events.
When she would then ask me “What was something that made you happy today?” sometimes I had to really stop and think about the whirlwind of my day to find a response that would be sufficient. On these days when I had trouble recalling my day or even something positive in it, it made me reflect how many hours of the day I must have been on “auto-pilot”. It is not that I wasn’t present with my co-workers, just that I wasn’t present in my own head. Once again, the question didn’t require me to list what I had done, it actually required me to stop and really think about how I was feeling during the day.
As this ritual continued, I came to realize that I began to pay more attention to my feelings during the day and become more present within myself as I pushed through the daily grind. I would stop and think, there’s something I can share tonight! The more I did this I began to find more and more things I could share at our dinnertime ritual each day. In a few months, both of us decided that we could now share three things each evening at the dinner table rather than just one!
Our question then changed to “What three things made you happy today?”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I have since learned, that this small ritual was making a very big difference to our wellbeing. This question was not just encouraging us to communicate with each other but to also be more mindful during our day and express gratitude together each evening.
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” – https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
As my daughter approaches sixteen, I am very grateful for the open dialogue we share as mother and daughter. Was it this little ritual that assisted us to develop such an open dialogue? Or perhaps it’s just genetic? I’ve often been told I’m a good communicator, chatty, or can even talk underwater!
What I do recall is that our ritual and the conversations that followed are some of my fondest memories of parenting a young child, and every so often I remind myself of the importance of expressing gratitude particularly during those challenging times.
For more information on gratitude, click here.
Much love, Miss Karen