School is back in session, and now that your kids are in the groove again, you want to know what's going on in their lives. Most parents are very good at asking questions that bring one-word responses. How was school? "Fine." What did you do today? "Nothing." Do you like your new teacher? "Yep." With the conversation pretty much over, your child runs out to play.

I remember those days. I wanted to know more, but I, like many of my contemporaries, was not very successful. We were basically clueless about communicating with our kids. We got slightly better at it with each child, but it came slowly. Finally, I got the picture.

Try quiet

Sometimes being quiet works, depending on the situation. I remember one day when our 6-year-old son came running in from his first day of school. Before I had a chance to ask him how his day had gone, he took control. He had one thing to say: "Quick! Give me a big piece of paper and crayons!" He seemed desperate. I obeyed without asking any questions (I deserve an "A+" for that). He laid that paper out on the counter and began scribbling wildly, color after color. Then he gave a huge sigh of relief.

That's when I said, "What's up, son?" He said, "I hate lines. I hate having to stay in the lines. I hate not doing things my way!" That was it, but it said volumes. Here was a boy who was still a kindergartner at heart. It takes a while to become a first grader. Heck, it takes a while for any kid to become comfortable with whatever new grade they're in.

It's hard to stay in the lines. Not just coloring lines but all kinds of lines. If you think about it, kids line up for lunch, they line up at the water fountain, they are basically lining up all day long. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We all have to learn to line up (think grocery store checkout, bank teller, etc.). Learning how to wait in a line is a good thing, but, for a kid, it can be hard. We don't like lines, but they are part of life. Kids have to learn that.

There are other lines kids have to deal with. They're called rules. Every teacher has her own. Not only do kids have to learn how to read their lesson books, but they have to learn to read their teachers. They're usually pretty good at it. They can read the meaning in a stern look. They can read a posture that lets them know what they can get away with. They need to be allowed to tell us about their teachers without us bursting forth with a lecture on obedience.

Let them say it

Be patient. Let children say what's on their minds without criticizing. When our son came home from junior high during the first week, he said, "I hate my chemistry teacher! He is so dull and boring! Get me out of that class." He was adamant. We said, "Hmmm, that's a challenge." We decided to find out what was going on for ourselves. At back-to-school night, when we went in to the chemistry classroom, the teacher introduced the course. My husband turned to me and quietly whispered, "This is the first time I've ever seen a cadaver speak." We were sympathetic toward our son.

We did a little digging and found out that this teacher had a good reputation for helping the kids learn. It just didn't show up in his personality. That evening, we told our son that we understood what he was talking about. We validated his feelings. Then we said, "Nevertheless, ignore his dull personality and do your best to learn from him. You will be staying in his class." That's all we said. At the end of that semester, our son actually liked the teacher and did well in the class.

Listen and validate

Little by little, we learn how to help our kids be diligent, happy students. Little by little, we learn how we can coax more words out of them. Listening and validating without preaching is a surefire method that works, but first we need to ask the kinds of questions that bring conversations we can listen to and validate. Here's an excellent article with 25 ways to ask your kids how their school day went without saying, "How was school today?"

We like this counsel from English professor and author Dr. Catherine M. Wallace: "Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them, all of it has always been big stuff."

Be patient. You can help your kids be their best by giving them a healthy dose of listening and love.

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