Oh, Nothing Much Report: The Value of the After-school Conversation

A theme that runs through a number of our blogs is the value of having conversations with, and listening to, young people about their lives both on- and off-line.  Yet we know that these conversations often are not easy for many parents and young people: Parents may feel disconnected from, even shut out of, the online lives of their children, and the children feel their parents just dont get it.  Some help is at hand, however, in the form of a report by Professor Tanya Byron that contains some Top Tips for Parents for more effective communication with their children.

The Oh, Nothing Much Report: The value of the after-school conversation was commissioned by Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) in 2009 to support its Next Generation Learning Campaign.  The report explores the communication challenges faced by parents looking to engage better with their child when it comes to school learning.  Acknowledgement is given that successful parent child communication is far harder than it sounds (p.1), when most conversations about the school day can be summarized as:

Parent: What did you do at school today

Child: Oh, nothing much.

Why is it so important to learn how to have more productive conversations with your child?  Because, as the report notes, successful communication about the school day between parent and child actively raises attainment, something which has been proven in countless studies (p.1).

While the focus of the report is not about childrens online lives, we feel nevertheless that many of the Top Tips can be adapted and used in those discussions.

Background Information: Main findings of the report:

  1. 82% of parents admit they dont know as much about their childs day at school as they would like;
  2. Just 16% of children proactively share any information with their parents about their school day;
  3. 37% of children say they find it quite or very difficult to speak to their parents about their education;
  4. 31% of parents admit to feeling excluded when their child wont tell them what theyve done at school that day;
  5. 24% of children said they felt like their parents were hassling them for information about what they got up to at school;
  6. Approaching half of the children (44%) said they dont like sharing things with their parents; they like to keep their school day private.
  7. 82% of parents want schools to keep them better informed of their progress at school.

Sound familiar?  Then you are certainly not alone.  The report notes that the more parents push for information, the more children resist, which can sometimes lead to an almost complete breakdown in communication, leaving all involved feeling frustrated and disenchanted.

What to do to help bridge the communication gap?

Prof. Byron has created a Top Tips for Parents – Part 1, and Part 2.  While these conversations are not focused specifically around the online life of your child, we feel that the suggestions can easily be adapted.  Here are the highlights:

  • Talking with your child
    • Build up your childs conversation skills, and let them practice on you
    • Avoid asking them vague questions (How was school today?) or closed questions that can be answered with a Yes or No
    • Make open-ended statements: Tell me about the games you played today
    • Ask open questions, directly (Thats a fantastic picture of a volcano tell me what is going on), or indirectly (I wonder what you had for lunch today)
    • Challenge them: Three funny things happened to me today – I bet you didnt get as many happen to you
  • Remember to encourage and praise them
  • Lead by example: Tell them about your day too and talk about the things you did
  • Its all about timing: Give your child time to unwind after school; take time at the dinner table, or elsewhere, to talk about a good and bad thing that happened that day.
  • Body language matters
    •  Make eye contact
    • Nodding is a good way to signal that you are listening
    • Be aware of your facial expressions the communication has to sound, look and feel genuine for it to be successful
    • Listen, listen, and listen
  • Be creative and use humor
  • Manage anxiety
    • Stay calm and give your child the space to communicate issues that may be worrying or upsetting them
    • Empower them by helping them work out their own coping strategies
    • Get the facts straight call the teacher and/or school counselor to double check the facts if necessary
  • Technology matters
    • Find out what technology your childs used to learn thats excited them that day
    • If your school does not have up-to-date and secure online information about your child, talk to the school about providing this facility
    • Make use of new technology to stay in touch with the school

Conclusions: Highlights from the reports conclusions include:

  1. The most successful conversations are calm, creative, non-confrontational and well timed;
  2. Encouraging a childs enthusiasm about school is the best way to maximize their learning and enjoyment there;
  3. Be patient – show your child that you are really interested in what they are doing and also that you respect their right to choose how and when they want to discuss it; in that way, you will be hearing a lot more than you do now;
  4. Schools and homes must work together to enable children to do as well as they can.  This means schools must communicate with parents about course work and curriculum so that parents can gear discussions, books or outings to what does on in the classroom.  This must be a three-way communication in which the child is a key player, with their needs firmly at the center.

Our Editorial: Regular readers of our blog will know that we are big fans of Prof. Byrons work.  We really appreciate her practical, realistic, research-based advice, and the way in which she always keeps young people at the heart of the matter.  Prof. Byron really gets it – she understands the issues, she understands young people, she understands what the solutions need to be, and she knows how to bring all these pieces together into a meaningful whole.  Thanks, Prof. Bryon.  You rock!

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