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5 Things Never to Ask Your Child Right After School

  1. How was school today?
  2. What do you have for homework?
  3. When are you going to do your homework?
  4. What did you get on the test?
  5. What did you learn today?

You want to interact and make a connection as soon as your kids get home. Your kids do too, but not in the way you might think. You’ve missed them, want to know what they did in your absence, how they got along, or if they had any problems. But to your kids, questions can feel like an interrogation. They have just spent a long hard day trying to meet school expectations, such as listening to teachers, following directions, doing things they don’t necessarily want to do, coping as best they can, and hopefully working hard and learning. They need a break. They need to know, here is the place where I am completely accepted and loved. They need to chill.

Each of these 5 questions is filled with an expectation.

1. How was school today?

What if school was terrible? Your child may or may not want to tell you because he has a picture of exactly how you will react. Does he want to tell you the truth and have you get upset or worried and immediately ask more questions? Or does he want to make you happy so you won’t do the above. Even if it all went well, he probably doesn’t want to go through the details of the day—yet.

Safest answer: “Fine.”

2. What do you have for homework?

Homework is the last thing she wants to think about right now. Going through her head with this question is, Do you expect me to work all the time? Give me a break and get off my back. Your child has many more important things on her mind once she is out of school and probably none of them have to do with homework.

Safest answer: “I don’t have any.”

3. When are you going to do your homework?

Your child hears that all you care about is homework and grades. Is that true? Make sure you don’t have to police your child’s homework time. Establish ground rules about homework at the beginning of each year. With your guidance, allow your child to determine the best time and place to do homework. Keep it as consistent as possible, be interested and close at hand but assume he will do it himself. Let him know when you’re available and when not if help is needed.

Safest answer: “Later.”

4. What did you get on the test?

Asking about grades on tests sends the message to your child that your approval comes in grades as well. If your child did well, she will be thrilled to tell you without the question. If she did poorly, what does she expect your response to be? Will she get grounded, a privilege removed, extra homework time piled on?

Safest answer: “We didn’t get it back.”

5. What did you learn today?

Talking about what your child is learning is a subject worthy of discussion—at a later time. Do be involved in your child’s learning, let him know you care and are interested in what he’s doing in school, learn along with him, but save the talk until he brings it up or until it is a logical discussion during homework time.

Safest answer: “Nothing.”

When your kids get off the bus, climb in the car, or come through the door, welcome them back home. A big smile, a hug, a touch, and an “I’m so glad to see you” or “Hello, my darling” will give your kids the grounding that home provides with no expectations. Your unconditional happiness in greeting them will create the stress-free, safe haven they need to refuel and relax…and will set up the way the rest of the day goes.

A happy greeting can wipe clean any negative interactions left over from a morning conflict or difficulties at school. Your kids will know they’re home and can chill. There is plenty of time later for what you want to know about their day. Be patient and meet your children where they are at the end of a long school day.

A couple of college football coaches have asked their athletes this question over the last 30 years: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?” 

You might be surprised by the answer: “The ride home from games with my parents.” 

Stuck in the car with a parent still mulling over the game, a child cannot escape. He gets asked why he missed that play. He gets asked what he can do to play better next time. He gets asked why the coach put so-and-so in or what he thinks about that call by the ref. Most kids are focused on just getting home. Many parents are not.

Those same college coaches asked their athletes a second question: “What did your parents say that made you feel great about being involved in sports?” 

The answer here was simple: parents said, “I love to watch you play.”

Saying “I love to watch you….” is a 5-word statement without any strings attached. It doesn’t suggest how a child can make us happier by being even better. It doesn’t imply we’re not so happy right now as a child could make us if she just worked harder and earned more acclaim.

Saying “I love to watch you…” can’t be said without a warm smile. It’s a sentence that feels good to say and feels good to hear. It’s a gift.

So try it. After the next game look your child in the eye and say, “I love to watch you play.” Just that. See if he doesn’t light up.

After your child practices the piano, helps his little sister, or just sits in a corner reading a book –  whenever you see something you want to encourage, something you want your child to do more of –  don’t make any comment or give any advice. Just say “I love to watch you…” do whatever you saw. Just that.

Then spread the love around. Tell your partner, “I love to watch you play with the kids.” Tell your mother, “I love to see you and the baby having such a good time.” Stop and appreciate the wonderful people and talents around you. There’s no need to tell people how to do things better. They’re doing just fine on their own right now.

Once we appreciate our children and tell them how much we love to see them in action, we really will appreciate them more. We’ll fell less inclined to judge and correct and happier to just let them be. We’ll be able to see how wonderful our children are.

And our kids will be happier to let us watch. Our kids won’t be afraid of the ride home.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

As you’re probably aware, I live in Washington State. You might also be aware that Washington is one of two states (along with Colorado) that recently legalized the use of recreational marijuana. In addition, although marijuana is still prohibited under Federal law, the Department of Justice has agreed to not take either state to court over these new marijuana laws.

It is not unreasonable to assume your child expects you also to look the other way.

No matter what your opinion about loosening the laws about pot, and despite the fact that you probably don’t live in a state where marijuana is legal, your teen or his best friend is certainly paying attention. The fact that the line between legal and illegal pot use has blurred means  – to a teen, at least – that maybe it’s not such a big deal to smoke a joint now and then. You and your rules are now believed by some kids as being behind the times.

If this matters to you – and it should – then the time to speak with your child is now, not later. Even if marijuana use hasn’t been on your radar screen, if you’ve been more worried about tobacco and alcohol, the time to make clear your stance on pot has come. Here is some advice.

  1. If you wish to prohibit your teen’s marijuana use, don’t bother to trot out scientific studies to make your case. The science is still out, with some research saying one thing and other research saying the opposite. Your teen will be able to match you, study for study. To avoid a shouting match, don’t try to convince anyone that her brain will rot if she smokes pot.
  2. Instead, if you wish to prohibit your teen’s marijuana use, make your feelings absolutely clear, just as you might if discussing premarital sex or unprotected sex or binge drinking or whatever else you want to forbid. No need to make threats or trot out unconvincing studies. Just say, “I know this is out there and some kids will feel the situation in other states makes smoking pot okay. It doesn’t for this family. Don’t do it.”
  3. If you don’t really care if your kid smokes pot or even if you support marijuana decriminalization, still, please, talk with your kid. Remind her that even in states where pot is legalized, it is still illegal for minors. Remind her that the laws in your own state haven’t changed and a conviction for pot smoking or selling will stick with her for a very long time.
  4. Warn your teen to be careful in party situations where others might bring marijuana to share or might take it upon themselves to serve pot-laced foods. This has always been an issue for party-goers, of course, but is more likely to become an issue now that some kids will think the rules have changed. Remind your teen that a simple traffic stop can become a huge problem if a passenger in their car has a pocketful of paraphernalia.

There’s a good bit of consternation in my state, from parents who suddenly don’t know what to do about marijuana. Laws may change but good parenting hasn’t. Talk with your teen.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Punks. Losers. Sex-crazed. Dumb. Do your teen’s best friends raise your eyebrows and lots of red flags? What can you do if the kids your own kid hangs out with seem sketchy and scary?

The reason why our teen’s friends worry us is that we realize these people create a mirror image of our own child. If he likes these delinquents doesn’t that mean he’s a delinquent too? Well, yes, maybe. It’s unlikely that your teen chooses friends very different from himself, or that kids very different from him choose him as a pal.

Which should be a relief, actually. You know your child and you know that sometimes she dresses strangely and sometimes she says things you’d love to silence but that she’s really a good kid. She’s an ordinary teen, trying to establish her own way of thinking and being and she’s doing not that bad a job of it. Chances are that the very same can be said of your child’s friends. Just like your own kid, other people’s teens might seem more unsavory than they really are.

But maybe this is not a relief but a wake-up call. If you see really unacceptable behavior in your teen’s friends – shoplifting, vandalism, bullying, drug and alcohol use – then it’s a good bet your child is a participant, in a small way if not all-in. If this is the case, then it’s time to stop blaming your teen’s friends for being a bad influence or carping at your child to find friends you think are more acceptable. It’s time to realize that this is who your own child has become, right under your nose.

How can you tell which is the true situation? How can you tell if your child’s friends are really as sweet as your own kid is or if your own kid is just as out-of-control as her friends?

The first thing is to get to know your teen’s friends better. Do you even know who your teen’s friends are or what they like to do? See how many of these questions you can answer:

  1. Who is your teen’s “best friend”?
  2. Which kids does your teen spend the most time with?
  3. Where do these kids live? Are they nearby or a distance away?
  4. Is your teen a member of some clique or group?
  5. What do your teen and his friends do for fun?
  6. What is the riskiest thing your teen and his friends have ever done
  7. What is the riskiest thing your teen and his friends do pretty regularly?
  8. On a Saturday night, where are your teen and his friends?
  9. How often do your teen and his friends skip school? Are his friends often absent or tardy?

The second thing to do is to have a conversation with your teen. This has to be a pleasant talk, in which your attitude is that of a person wanting to understand better, not the attitude of a criminal investigator. You can express your concern about your teen’s friends and listen while he defends them. You can ask him to be aware of behavior you see in his friends that makes you anxious. Avoid making threats, forbidding him to see someone, or raising your voice. If you stay calm and listen respectfully, you’ll learn more.

Here’s the thing: your kids will live in a world populated by their peers. It’s their peers they must connect with. Eventually they will move beyond the family sphere and make their own families and their own lives. They’ve already started this move. There’s nothing you can do to stop it or to keep your teen under your total control.

So keep the lines of communication open. Be supportive of your teen and of her friends without being permissive or trying to be one of the group. Be clear about your expectations. And be patient. The bumpy road you and your teen are on right now will smooth out as she and her friends leave adolescence and become more mature.

Above all, don’t dislike your teen’s friends. Disliking his friends means you dislike him. That’s how he sees it.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

Last week, we talked about lying to kids, including lying to deflect questions about events children might find upsetting. You can read that article here, but basically I advised parents to be honest with their kids, since they will likely find out the truth anyway. Better to hear the worst from you.

What if your children are not little kids, still living in a protective bubble, but teens or preteens? Older children are more worldly-wise and they quite quickly see the implications of distressing events. They quite quickly assign blame, ask penetrating questions, and imagine outcomes. They get angry. They tell their friends. They may react with depression, anxiety or violence.

You want to protect your children. You want to keep even your older kids convinced of their safety and your ability to control a situation. But they’re too smart for that. They know too much. When things spin out of control in your life, how can you keep it from spinning out of control for your teen too?

You cannot control all things. How your teen reacts to bad news – news about divorce, relocation, job loss, serious illness, or death – depends in large part on the teen’s own personality and reaction style. You’ve lived with this person all his life and you know how he tends to respond to things. You can prepare for his reaction but you cannot change his preset pattern.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for telling your teen bad news.

  1. Find the right time to talk. If you can, this will be a time when there aren’t any distractions and both you and your teen are in a decent mood and aren’t feeling hurried. But don’t wait for the perfect time. Act soon. The longer you wait to break the news to your teen, the more likely someone else will tell her first, and the more likely you’ll lose your nerve and not tell her at all.
  2. Be direct. The quicker you get to the point the better. A bit of an introduction is needed, to clue your teen in to what you’re going to talk about. Saying that this news might be difficult to hear is also good, so your teen has a few seconds to get emotionally prepped. Say, “Derek, you know Dad’s been having a rough time at work lately. I have some bad news about that…”
  3. Say what you need to say, then stop. Let your child talk. Let him ask questions, which you will answer honestly. Let him get upset. Let him cry. It’s okay if you cry yourself. Once you’ve broken the bad news, the natural response is emotional. Sit together with this news until he seems to have reached a quiet point.
  4. If there is more bad news to add, add it now. Say, “So… I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay in this house. We might have to move. I know that’s not what you want…” Be ready to listen again and help your child absorb this news. Depending on your child’s usual reaction patterns, he may end the conversation right now or he may be open to hearing more.
  5. If your child storms out of the room, don’t chase her. If she says she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, respect that. Like anybody else, your teen needs some time and space to adjust to what she’s just heard.
  6. If and when your child is open to hearing more, reassure him as best you can. Try to end on a positive note, even if it’s just to say, “We’ve weathered stuff before and we can do it again.”
  7. If your child has suggestions, listen and respect those. Don’t dismiss your child’s efforts to make things right or argue with her. Like you, she is trying to see a future. Her ideas may not seem credible to you, but you need all the creative solutions and positive thinking you can get.  You both do.

Keep in mind that bad news is part of everyone’s life. You cannot protect your child from this but you can show him how to roll with the punches. How you share difficult change affects his happiness, your happiness, and your future together.

You can do this. Be sure to do it.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Dr. Anderson will be in Atlanta, GA on December 10 and 11, speaking at the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference. Email her at [email protected] for details or to set up a presentation to your group in the Atlanta area on one of those dates.

At age four or five your child talks your ear off. But then, when she hits the teen years, she clams up. How can you keep your kid talking to you? Here are nine tricks to try.

  1. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a single word or just by “yes” or “no.”  Instead of asking “How was your day?” (and get “fine” or just a shrug),  say, “Tell me about your day.”
  2. Ask her opinion about something (and don’t argue about  what she tells you). Ask, “How do you think I should vote on the plastic bag tax?” or “What color should we paint the family room?”
  3. Ask for help in solving a problem.  This can be a simple decision, “Should we call out for pizza or have Chinese tonight?” or it could be something more engaging: “Can you hold this end while I measure this? The measuring tape keeps falling off…”
  4. If you get no answer, answer your own question, as if talking to yourself, and leave a space for your child to chime in. “Tell me about your day” (no answer). “Let’s see, it’s Tuesday so that means you had English. Are you still reading The Old Man and The Sea?” (no answer). I remember reading that… I had trouble getting into it…” (by now you should have got some response, but if not, try again later).
  5. Avoid asking personal questions or personal questions about her friends. Teens count as personal questions anything about which parents are too old and too out-of-touch to be qualified to discuss. So don’t try to demonstrate your knowledge of popular culture. Just keep it neutral.
  6. Try striking up a conversation when you’re both in the car or doing something together. Talking in the car is great because your child can’t get away, the conversation has a natural end-point when you get to your destination, and neither of you can strangle the other. But keep it casual. Avoid trapping your kid in the car for a serious heart-to-heart.
  7. Don’t shout or rush things. Use short sentences and leave spaces so your kid can also talk. And listen. Please listen.
  8. Avoid saying anything about her refusal to talk or your frustration with this or how hard you’re trying. If you don’t get a response when you talk, let it go and try again another time.
  9. Smile. Be pleasant and supportive no matter what.

Eventually, your child will want to talk with you, maybe about something important to you both. Knowing you are ready and eager to listen will encourage her. So keep the door open, avoid argument and hassle, and treat her with respect. Your little chatterbox is a bit more reserved these days, but together you can find things to say.