“Hi honey! How was your day?!” This is how I start each day after school if I’m not careful. Of course, it’s a perfectly fine way to greet someone. The sentiment is healthy. We want to know how they are and what they’ve experienced in our absence. We are being loving. We are being invested. And, we are possibly being totally overwhelming without intending to. So, what are we to do when we’ve been missing our kid and they are finally in our care again? Here’s some ideas that are helpful and match up with the science of your kid’s after-school body and brain.
Tips for Better After-School Connection with Your Child
Offer Statements, Not Questions: Questions require a response. Statements do not. The adrenal letdown that happens once a child is out of school and back in your care can leave your kid unable to engage in the way they normally would. So, it can benefit them when we only offer input, rather than asking for something back. Welcoming statements like, “I love you buddy.” “I missed you today.” “I’m so glad to be together again” can be helpful in the transition. These types of statements offer affection and comfort without requiring a response from your depleted kiddo.
Let Them Lead: After a greeting, giving the lead over to your child is critical. When I discipline myself enough to remain quiet until they speak, we typically connect better. Sometimes they fall asleep, which is a huge indicator that talking was not in their ability. Sometimes they remain silent for most of the ride and then start talking near the end. And, sometimes they launch right in with information. It’s different each day because they’ve had different experiences each day. Letting them take the lead with their own self-care and disclosure is both loving and encourages personal leadership.
Provide Creature Comforts: Whether your kid is five or fifteen, after a long day creature comforts are super helpful. Think all the senses. Snack on hand, lovey in their seat, comfy temperature in the car, soothing music on the radio. It is hard for our bodies to relax enough to communicate when we are butting up against physical discomfort. This is not about being overly accomodating. Rather, this is about teaching them how to self-soothe even as they grow up. As adults, we know how to make ourselves a cup of tea or choose the right tunes. We have to teach them what it looks like to create comfortable experiences so they can recover and then reengage.
Empathize: Sometimes we connect more effectively with our children when we simply stop and say, “What would I need in this situation?” When adults have been in a high energy, performance situation for many hours, we often need a moment to collect ourselves before we can engage in a discussion about the day. It doesn’t matter if we hear about our child’s day at 3:15, 5:15, or 8:15, but that time might make all the difference in how much/how well our kids can communicate. Sometimes they just need lower energy/lower stakes situations (i.e. not face-to-face, before bed with the energy/lights are lower) to be able to engage.
The reality is, sometimes our kids are going to willingly share with us, and sometimes they aren’t. If we are focused on our own need to connect we are more likely to operate from our own agenda, possibly bypassing important signals from them. But, if we consider what both parties need, we will be more likely to find solutions that satisfy everyone…eventually. Remember, the measure of connection is not volume or frequency, but rather, quality. Giving our children some control over what and when they share encourages independence, self-agency, and self-care — essential skills they will need as adults. It can be hard to let them lead. But, hopefully if we do it well, when they choose to share it will be richer and more satisfying for all.