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After 7 weeks of Corona-lockdown, staying at home and home-schooling our 6-year old, he is opening up. He has told me what goes on at school, that he is often angry and how he vents. He has told me how the teacher responds to problems among pupils. I want to continue like this when school starts again next week and when we all go back to the office at some point in the future.

My question is how.

I have always believed it is more important to have quality time then a lot of time. But maybe the quality time we had before was not of sufficient quality. I would pick him up from school 1 or 2 days a week. On those days he would often go play with a friend on one day and have swimming lessons the other day, so realistically we did not spend that much time together.

However we used to do a lot of fun things together in the weekends. And in the mornings there is always cuddling, and playing (followed by shouting because we are late for school). When he goes to daycare or when grandparents pick him up from school, we are there to brush his teeth and put him in bed in the evening. I always ask how his day was, but usually i get some meaningless answer ('just normal') and even when i try i get very little out of him. I ask who his friends are, who he likes, what he did at gym, who he played with during the break, and so on. But it is clear he thinks i'm a nuisance for asking.

Now with Corona he has told me so many things. Usually he will randomly tell me something right before he goes to sleep, i can ask one or two questions and then he closes up again.

It seems to me all that has changed is we have more time together. It is not better time: the schoolwork causes a lot of friction resulting in shouting, door-slamming and crying. Because we also have to work from home, and do the housekeeping, we sometimes have to tell him to go play by himself. This was rarely the case before, and it is clear he is not happy about it.

So my question is, after Corona, how do we entice our son to keep opening up like he does during this stay-home period?

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I am really not an expert. But consider this:

During a normal day/week, 95% of the time other people determine what activity to do and/or even how to do it. Wake up now. Get dressed with this. Eat. Now to kindergarden. Now we sing. Even in kindergarden when playing, the kind and content of each game are determined in some sort of social interaction between several kids. And such social interaction can be very taxing for many kids. Grandparents might have special activities. List goes on.

You mention "But it is clear he thinks i'm a nuisance for asking.". That is hardly surprising: All day someone told him what to do, now he is told to do the next thing (like a parrot.)

Remember that "Quality time" that consists of special activities might not be what he needs. If you enable some hours of the day where he really has time to calm down and process all of the input of the day, decide on his own what he (or both of you) do... then he might be happy to share with you again.

(You might want to avoid television for that him-time, though.)

Best thing is that such times need not necessarily be deducted from time you need for yourself or your tasks.

If you should try: tell us how it turned out!

PS: Also, consider telling him about your day.

  • Thanks, i have never tried telling him how my day was! Actually he does make a lot of decisions about his day, certainly compared to other kids. He can choose what we'll do on days off - i will usually suggest some activities to choose from. And i will interrupt what ever he is doing for breakfast, lunch, dinner. It is however true he as taken up Lego in corona time a lot more then before, probably related to having much more really free time. – Ivana May 9 '20 at 14:48
  • +1, excellent suggestion to tell him about your day! Sets a standard for how to talk about your day and models desired behaviour without demanding anything from the child. – dxh May 13 '20 at 5:56
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First of all, I doubt your premise that quality time can replace quantity of time. I get that getting time with one's children is a privilege that not everyone enjoys and I don't mean to suggest that those who don't can't be good parents with close relations to their children. And by all means, if quantity of time is limited it's probably preferable if the time you do get is high quality. But if at all you do have a chance, when it comes to building relationships, I think few things can ever beat just showing up, through good times and bad, to share the exciting parts of life and the mundane alike.

I'm guessing how much time you have access to your child is more or less out of your control, but things being what they are, I think it's still a useful mindset to have.

Doing fun things in the weekend is great. You're expanding his world, giving him new experiences, new points of reference in life. Those are all important parenting objectives. But in those moments, his focus will be on the exciting new experiences - not on connecting with you. That happens in the downtime between the fun things.

Think about the people who are closest to you, who you open up to. I'm not surprised if what makes them stand out from the rest of the people in your life who are not as close, is the sheer amount of normal dull life or perhaps even hardships you've endured together; not that the trips you've taken with these people are so much better, etc. Again, not to shame you for not having more time, but rather to remind you that this time also matters, and matters greatly. Perhaps what you should do moving forward is rather to lower the pressure to always make the best out of all the time you do have.

I think this is a great deal of the explanation for why you're seeing these changes at this point, and I really hope that home isolation will be a time for many families to reconnect as you seem to have.

I also have to say, the question "how was your day" is rather problematic as a means to connect. It's like asking "how are you" to an acquaintance, a courtesy phrase where both parties know that you're just supposed to say "good, and you?" regardless of what's going on in your life. Even if your child has had a rough day, bringing it up might be hard, and he's not likely to spill all of that because you asked a question out of the blue.

If you want meaningful answers, you must signal that you're actively interested and have time to catch whatever he throws at you, and you weren't just making small talk. You also need to make sure he feels like he's in a safe space to share. I find that happens when information is not demanded, but a door is opened for sharing, should he want to. Saying what you observe and what you think about it is also a good way to show that you're seeing him and not just asking routine questions, and at the same time it frames the discussion. So instead of "how was your day", you might try "sweetie, I see you look a bit down today. We all have days like that, but if there's anything in particular that's troubling you, know that I'm always here for you. Sometimes it helps to just talk about it." Or "my, you seem to be in a good mood today, has anything happened? Did you find money on your way home?" (or something phoney like that, which might elicit a response like "no, it's just that..." By your own proposed answer you're anchoring what level of specificity is appropriate in a response.)

Make good use of the nuggets he has thrown you during this time. Don't ask questions that just demand a daily report. Engage and connect with him using the information you have. "Hey, what did teacher X do to his problem pupils today? Did he get mad at anyone?" The things your child has already shared are a good indicator of what's making a big impression on him right now, and being able to talk about it with at least some little insight makes you part of the in group. Also, in these areas he has already decided to share a little, so the threshold for sharing more will be lower. You can then use that as an entrance point to unravel new information. Perhaps you'll notice that a few names recur commonly when talking about the unruly pupils, and you can have a discussion around that. Then next time you have that information to draw from too, and you may ask "hey, what trouble did pupil X get themselves into today?" Or perhaps in talking about unruly pupils, he'll disclose some incident that'll give you new insight into what your kid is dealing with at school.

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