Connecting with kids
Whether you connect with kids as a teacher or therapist or you have children of your own, you may know that using direct questions doesn't work. So what does?
First decide what you want to achieve:
- Do you want facts about their day? e.g. 'what mark did they get in their maths test', 'have they been sick', 'did they hand in a note' etc.
- Do you want information about their state of mind e.g. 'were you OK today', 'do you like school'.
- Do you just want to start a dialogue? e.g. 'what did you do this weekend'.
- Do you just want to connect? e.g. 'what's your name', 'hello'.
Some questions suggest a yes or no answer. They are called 'closed questions' and once they've been answered there's no obvious place to go with the conversation. Asking these sort of questions can be quite risky because they are natural 'stoppers'. They also worry children because each answer has repercussions. They have to weigh up what these are and therefore what to say. There can be a scary moment of deliberation as they decide between the honest answer and the safe answer. So it may work better to change the style into a more open ended question so instead of 'did you hand in the note today?' try 'what did your teacher say when you handed in the note?'.
Answering questions about state of mind in the past, referring to earlier on in the day can be confusing for children. They know how they feel now but it's unlikely they will remember how they felt four or five hours ago. Instead focus on the present state and ask them what they did earlier and this will jog their memory.
Better ways of connecting with children are to start up a conversation by stepping into their shoes and being where they are. Start in a simple way by just noticing them, saying 'hello' and asking about something they are doing, maybe do the same thing with them. Ask them to tell you about what they are doing and what they want to make or do.
Lots of parents worry about their children during the day and carry that worry with them when they greet their child after school, but your child will almost certainly be in a different state and has moved on. By replaying the worried face, or concerned questioning you replay the anxiety they had and build up a pattern where they feel they need to have something wrong in order to interest you. Lots of mums notice a pattern whereby the child feels ill or sick whenever mum is around because that's what gets the attention and subconsciously children are programmed to do what gets them attention.
This is of course a problem for therapists and teachers, so one of the ways to overcome it is to focus on what's good, what works and give attention to that instead. The intention then is to transfer those skills to where the child needs them to manage those sticky moments or struggles.
Notice which sort of questions your child responds best to and use them more oftenh avoiding the questions that get that ubiquitous 'fine' or 'ok' or 'don't know'.
About the author
Judy Bartkowiak runs a thriving parent and kids coaching practice in Berkshire/South Bucks, delivers parenting workshops and trains the NLP kids practitioner course.
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