Getting your middle schooler talking can feel like an Olympic sport some days. In some ways, it was easier having a conversation with your student when they were in elementary school. Sure, they’d tell you every minute detail of their day—from who they played with at recess to how much they loved the cafeteria pizza rolls—but at least the communication came organically.
But as they get older, these same kids may stop sharing information with Mom and Dad for a variety of reasons—many of which are out of your control. Maybe they’re getting less sleep, experiencing more drama or bullying, or feeling anxious about their grades. Or perhaps they’re dealing with the hormones of puberty, making them feel crankier or annoyed by the “pestering” parental grilling after a long day of classes.
Whatever the reason, don’t give up hope if your middle schooler has suddenly stopped communicating as much with you. It’s often a normal part of growing up as kids distance themselves from their parents and shift into figuring out who they are, where they fit in, and who their true friends really are.
All of this is not to say that you should cut back on your attempts to engage them in conversation after school, around the dinner table, or in the evening once they’ve had time to refuel their brain, unwind and decompress. In fact, asking questions and being present to actively listen to your kid is still the best way to nurture your relationship. In addition, the undivided attention you give them will help boost their emotional resiliency, provide a sense of belonging and give you a read on how they’re feeling about school, friendships and life in general.
Before you get started asking these questions, here are a few things to consider:
- Evaluate their physical needs first. No one wants to delve into a conversation—let alone be peppered by questions—when they’re tired, hungry or thirsty. Fuel their body and let them decompress before trying to have a substantive conversation.
- Listen without judgement. If your child begins to open up to you, be careful not lecture them, offer solutions (unless they’ve asked for them) or demonstrate that you disapprove through body language (e.g., rolling your eyes or crossing your arms).
- Give them your undivided attention. Silence your TV, radio or cell phone so they feel as though what they say is being valued and heard.
Ready for some examples of open-ended questions that you can ask your kiddo to get your middle schooler talking?
Consider the following examples and adjust them for playfulness and creativity based on your child’s maturity, interests and experiences
- What happened to today that had you thinking, “Holy guacamole! That was not what I thought was going to happen”?
- If you were a superhero and could have used ONE particular power at school today, who would you be, what would the superpower be, and what would you have done?
- What is the coolest or most unique thing you learned today?
- Not counting lunch, gym or recess, what is your favorite class and why? (i.e., Is it the teacher, the students or the subject you enjoy most about that class?)
- If you could teach any of your classes tomorrow, which class would you choose and which class would you say, “No way”?
- What nice thing did you do for someone or did someone do for you today?
- If you were in charge of combining gym class and music class (or some other classes), what crazy but fun activity would you dream up for your classmates? (THINK: “Musical Chairs Dodgeball”)
- If you were allowed to curl up with a blanket and pillow on the floor to take a nap, which class would you choose and why?
- What’s the coolest things you’ve ever seen at the school (inside or out) that isn’t typically found at a school?
- Imagine everyone in one of your afternoon classes was feeling sleepy or bored. What song would you blast through the loudspeakers to wake them up and get them dancing?
More Resources to Help Connect With Your Kids:
Remember, open-ended questions are more likely to get you a more detailed response. And if you can find a way to make your questions relevant, interesting and fun, your kid is more likely to answer with details that give you insights into their school experience. Getting your middle schooler talking is just one step towards greater connection with them. But it’s a powerful step in the right direction.