On the face of it, we all think we know our children very well. Particularly if they are not yet in school and you spend a lot of time with them! Even if you are certain that you know everything there is to know, it’s still worth reflecting as you may uncover something interesting or develop a new way to get them to behave in the ways that you would like. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you could know about your child, but includes a lot of the important stuff.
Temperament and personality
- Does your child show leadership qualities, are they just happy to be part of the gang or do they prefer play alone?
- Is your child kind? Polite? A good friend?
- Is your child more of an introvert, extrovert or do they show aspects of both?
- What helps your child to be calm / calm down?
- What makes your child frustrated or angry?
- What makes your child embarrassed?
- Does your child worry a lot? If so, what are the main things that cause their anxiety?
- Is your child competitive?
- What are your child’s main interests? Are they creative? Outdoorsy? Sporty? etc.
- Is your child determined to do things for themselves or do they easily give up?
- Which are your child’s favourite toys, shows or books? What do these have in common?
- Is there anything that your child is afraid of? What do they do to cope with this?
Relationships with others
- Who are your child’s friends?
- Does your child make friends easily?
- Does your child have a lot of friends, a smaller number of close friends or do they spend a lot of time alone? If so, is this an issue for them?
- If they are friends that they have chosen (as opposed to family members or children of your own friends), what do they enjoy playing together and how well do they play together?
- Who does your child argue with? What are the main flashpoints?
- Is your child able to resolve their disagreements with their friends and/or siblings without adult intervention sometimes? Often? Rarely? Never?
- Does your child have a favourite adult in their lives? Why do you think this is? Does it change over time?
- Are there any adults that your child dislikes? Do you know why?
Learning and skills
- Does your child learn new things easily, or does it take time?
- How strong are your child’s verbal skills? Are they able to express themselves as clearly as they would like?
- Do they prefer to learn through trying straight away for themselves, or by taking time to observe first? Or does it depend on what they’re trying to learn?
- How confident is your child in their own body – what do they enjoy in the playground / park? How comfortable are they at climbing, balancing etc. ?
- Is your child able to play independently? For how long?
- What has worked well for you in getting your child to behave as you would like?
- What hasn’t worked so well for them? Do you know why?
- What (non food) rewards do you think motivate them?
Would you like to know your child better?
There are several ways of achieving this:
Firstly, just observe them! If there are aspects from the questions above that you feel that you don’t have answers to, keep watch for them over the next few days, focusing on just one area at a time, one child at a time (we all make comparisons between kids, but doing this systematically is not healthy for your relationship with them). This is a sort of mindfulness exercise for your parent/child relationship.
Secondly, ask them but use better questions! Most kids I know don’t respond well to “how was your day?” for example. There are lots of ways to tackle this, depending on the temperament and interests of your kid, but just a few ideas that have worked for me after preschool pick up include:
- Did anyone make you laugh today?
- What activity did you do that made the most mess?
- What do you think your teacher does after you’ve gone home?
and there are loads more ideas of these sorts of questions on this this blog.
You can also try simply “is there anything you’d like to ask me?” which works really well with my son. He asks me tonnes of questions, from how machinery works to why someone is sleeping rough and it opens up some interesting dialogue between us.
Thirdly, really listen to what your child is saying, try not to talk over them (tempting so much of the time with a young child!) and leave space in the conversation for them to fill. Taking a decent pause after you’ve asked them something to process your question, think about the answer and respond is worth a try. If you’re really interested in this topic, there is a wealth of research out there but one full text academic article that is freely available online and does some number crunching is Sergey Kiselev, Kimberly Espy and Tiffany Sheffield. 2009. Age-related differences in reaction time performance in young children. [ONLINE]
Bottom line: kids need longer to think about things than adults do, so consider holding a conversation at their pace.