All humans have a fundamental human need for connection. When we feel disconnected from those around us, from those we love we struggle to cope. Our mood is impacted, and as we all know, where our mood goes, our behaviour follows! A lot of toddler and child ‘behaviour’ can be improved when we focus on meeting their need for connection. This can be a particularly notable issue after a time of separation such as the school or nursery day. So, reconnecting is important. We need to rebuild that connection because it is fundamental to their wellbeing, and also to ours.
Our blog about talking to children about their day, and how hard this can be motivated us to compile a list of tips to support this type of reconnection.
Top tips for encouraging your child to open up after an absence
1. Give them space to reconnect
Children find it difficult to process their emotions if they are full of built up energy. Whenever possible, give your child the space to choose their activity immediately after school. Allow them to disperse whatever they need to in the way they intuitively feel is right. This may be running around the playground, or collapsing on the sofa. Remember they are individual, it won’t look the same for everyone. Children need to process, even unconsciously, before reconnecting.
2. Give them time to reconnect
All children are different and some might want to talk at once but most need time before reconnecting. Time will give a child the ability to process their experiences and potentially connect them with how they are feeling. When they are ready, they will be able to share those experiences with you more coherently and readily. They’ll also find it easier to realise they need help. Giving them time may mean they are more likely to seek your help if they’re struggling to process or make sense of things. Bombarding them with questions as they walk out of school isn’t likely to get much response, or build much connection.
3. Bedtime is usually not the best time to reconnect
We want to give them time, however, leaving lengthy conversations until bedtime may not be ideal. Bringing up any anxieties just before bedtime, then expecting them to calmly relax to sleep alone is unrealistic. You could use the other tips to support your child to open up a bit earlier. Alternatively, if they are still mostly opening up at bedtime, then build in time for that. Ensure they feel heard. If they raise something that needs more discussion then listen, validate how they feel, and agree to talk about it more in the morning.
If it works for your family, then lying with them as they fall asleep can be both connecting, and illuminating. You often hear about little snippets of their day that floats to their mind as they relax. Being able to say it and be heard can allow them to let the memory go, and help them relax their mind.
4. Listen and respond with compassion
This is one for all the time but it’s just here as a reminder. If you listen to them when they talk about what they want to talk about (even if it’s very boring or repetitive) then they’re more likely to tell things you think are important. To them, all the stuff is important. Also remembering that before they have felt able to offload their day, their behaviour may reflect their unprocessed negative emotions. We have articles about after school restraint collapse that can really help with this.
Responding with compassion and empathy, even in the face of very difficult behaviour, will likely make them feel more able to process those feelings more quickly. Remember that you are their safe space.
5. Try something other than "How was your day?" to connect.
“How was your day?” or “What did you do at school today” are questions that are simply too broad for a little mind. Instead, you could say ‘Hey, it’s Wednesday, don’t you have maths today/did you do yoga? Often this will open up that conversation about their day. However, if it doesn’t, worry not, you’re still communicating that you’re interested in them and their schedule. Also, parents often forget that, for our children, the social part of school is as, if not more, important than their subjects. You could also ask what games they played at break, and if their friends did something funny today. Reconnecting means connecting to the things that matter to them.
6. Talk about your day
Psychology tells us that children learn behaviour, particularly social behaviour through modelling. (copying other people). If we want our children to open up about their day, we need to do that ourselves. An excellent opportunity for this is during an evening meal. Whilst we all sit down to eat we take turns (though everyone gets to choose if they join in) at saying something about our day. For example, “I worked hard today helping a colleague” or “I walked the dog today and cleaned the house”.
Another useful tool we (as the adults) use is that we try to also name our emotions when talking about our activities to encourage our children to recognise and talk about a range of emotions themselves. For example, “I felt happy today because I was able to get out into the forest with the dog” or “I felt sad today because my friend at work was sick and so I didn’t get to have lunch with her”.
These tips can really help to get conversation going after a separation; for reconnecting. However, it is helpful to remember that conversation is not the only way to connect. Cuddles, playing together, reading together, preparing dinner together can all build connection, even if you don’t talk at all. Not talking about their day doesn’t mean there’s a problem. What matters most is that there is opportunity for them to talk, should they need it.
Find your way to reconnect; and feel free to share how you manage this with other families by commenting.