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086 – Class is in session! Five tips to connect with your child at the start of the school year

In this episode, Adam Salgat, Micki Gibbs, and Mike Desparrois set you up for success as your family goes through the transition of starting a new school year. Listen closely for five tips to bring you closer to your child as they head into a very stressful time of their life.

1. Use door openers
2. Grace and space, don’t interrogate
3. Let them lead the conversation
4. Connection before direction
5. Empathize, reflectively listen, and don’t problem solve

AI-generated dictation of the podcast audio

Please note that this transcription was completed using AI software.  Occasionally, unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophones, and other interpretive errors are inadvertently transcribed by the software. Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

Adam Salgat 0:03
Do you remember the day you found the passion that fuels your life? Or maybe the first date you had with your partner? Or how about the day your child graduated college, there was love, joy and hopefulness of change. Over the years, many alumni have expressed that the our community listens course is life changing in a similar way. And we know it has been infectious for many, something we know you can’t just keep to yourself. So take a chance to share that experience with those in your circle by telling them about upcoming classes. Even if they live outside of a regional learning hub, we now offer a virtual OCL course. When we all learn to listen, empathetically, we can be part of a caring community. Visit our website at Chapman or follow the link in the description of this podcast.

Introduction 1:04
Welcome to the listen first podcast brought to you by the Chapman foundation for caring communities. Our vision and mission is to strengthen relationships and build stronger communities through listening leadership, care and service to create a truly human connection. Learn and partner with us as we imagine a society in which people care about each other. And listen first.

Adam Salgat 1:34
Hello, and welcome to the listen first podcast. My name is Adam Salgat. And with me today is Mickey Gibbs, Director of Family and early childhood partnerships, as well as the Michigan regional hub director. How you doing today, Mickey?

Unknown Speaker 1:48
Good. Thanks for having me.

Adam Salgat 1:51
I’m glad you’re here. And I’m also super happy to welcome back. Our friend Mike this Barris formerly of the Chapman Foundation, now a behavior specialist with his own consulting firm. But he also still facilitates with us at CFCC. Mike, how you been?

Unknown Speaker 2:07
I’ve been doing great Adam excited to see you and Mickey and beyond the podcast. So thank you for inviting me.

Adam Salgat 2:15
I know everybody’s missed your voice and all your baseball anecdotes. So we’re welcoming you back with open arms. I’m sure everybody has been wondering where did he go? So I specifically wanted to have you on today’s podcast, because we’re going to talk about the start of the school year, the start of the school year is underway. This is a major life transition for many families. And there’s a lot to think about. How will the kids handle waking up earlier? You got to pack lunches, you got to make sure your kid has two pairs of shoes for Jim? Do they have their locker calm? What are they doing for care after school? Did they already get homework on the first day? Do they need more pillows in their dorm room? Are they safe walking home from class at night, so many things rolling through our brain as we’re trying to keep our kids safe, keep our kids happy and also build up who they are as a person and educate them. So with that being said, today, we want to give you five tips on how to connect with your kids at the start of the school year. Our first tip is going to come from Mickey tell me about door openers Mickey.

Speaker 3 3:16
Yeah, thanks, Adam. So you know, I took the art community lessons class several years ago, and after the class, I just really started with door openers with my son Carter, he was about 11. She’s a middle school boy, it’s sort of felt like our we were connecting less and less over time. So I just started with door openers. And door openers are super simple. It’s an easy way to increase connection with your kiddos. And honestly, it can work with a four year old and it can work with a kiddo that’s a senior in college or even older. Because really the key to door openers is just shifting a question to a statement. So I don’t know about you. But when I was growing up, my mom would pick me up, you know, after school every day. And the first thing she would say to me was how was your day? And I would answer fine. Yeah, good. It was good. It was bad. It was stressful. Maybe there was a little bit, something added after that. But when we say to our kids, how was your day? We’re implying a specific answer. What might be the better choice is to turn that question. A question really gives you a little bit of control in a conversation whether you’re thinking about it that way or not. It’s sort of implying that the answer is going to go in a specific direction. But if we say something simple, like, tell me about your day, it really has complete control over our kiddo to answer in any way they want. They can share a feeling they can share a description, they can share something that happened. So I would encourage all the parents listening to this podcast to just for one week, commit to changing the question How was your day to tell me about your day and see What happens? It might not magically change those answers right in the beginning, but if you get a little bit of time, and you keep saying it, I think you’ll find that your kiddo is going to share more with you, because you’re giving them control of those answers and the direction that the conversation goes.

Adam Salgat 5:16
You that’s a great tip. And I have a story coming up here that’s gonna illustrate that. Mike, anything you’d like to add about that about that tip door openers?

Unknown Speaker 5:25
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s kind of where I was going with mine is like really, given the opportunity when your kiddos come home, or you have the opportunity in the morning with your kids. Gotta remember, transitions are very difficult for humans in general. And when we’re working with kiddos, it doesn’t matter if they’re the little, little tiny ones that are going to daycare, or preschool, or Headstart or whatever programs out there, elementary, junior high school, and of course, our college kids as well. They’re experiencing a whole new world in so many different directions throughout their day. So as Mickey said, doing those door openers, like, you know, tell me more, tell me about your day, those are very calming things to kind of help a kid just really human kind of collect their thoughts and their ideas to what they truly want to share. And the opposite side of that not showing grace is just drilling them or interrogating them with questions. And you know, not being patient enough to let them be able to express what it is that they truly want to tell you because you’re dealing with emotions and feelings, and all this newness, and it kind of can just bubble up. So I have to be really, really careful because I’m not a super patient person. And my youngest daughter is now a junior in high school. And she’s got a lot going on with volleyball and different classes, taking dual credit college and all this stuff. And she’s more introverted, or I’m more extroverted. So when she says, you know, it was fine. If I just wait, and I’m a little bit patient, don’t respond just kind of way, way, way. Maybe a door opener. It’s amazing when I’ll figure out what five minutes but the worst thing that I can do is like, Delaney, how a school house first period, what did you do in first period, you have homework and second period was volleyball, where did you go for lunch? Did you have money? Did you have gas in your car? You know, just start hammering her with those questions, because nothing in this world will shut her down, or most kids down, when we just start to like, level into them with all these questions when their whole world is just new. And all these different feelings and emotions are just coming to their surface anyway.

Adam Salgat 7:39
Yep, that is such a good reminder. So it sounds like your tip is the first give them grace Be patient. Yes. And, and then in that space, remember to give don’t necessarily have to start interrogating them. So my quick story is about my six year old who went to her first day of first grade. And when she got home, I used to a door opener. And I said, Tell me about your first day of first grade. And she said, I already told Mom and I kind of thought, well, I have a choice here, I can go, well, that’s kind of rude. First of all, you know, respond to me quite like that. But then I remembered a she got up three hours before she’s been getting up for like the last 12 weeks. And be you know, she did already, you know, expend energy to share that information. So I decided to do a little bit of what Mike suggested here, be patient, don’t start interrogating. So what I replied back was just simply, okay, I’m here if you want to talk about it, a minute went by or so and she says a pigeon brought us our snack today. And so that led me to ask a few more little bit interrogated questions, because not often do you hear that kind of response about first day of school. And, you know, she filled me in that the teacher, read them a book and brought him a snack. And so we had some fun, and it was good conversation. But I kind of just let her lead the conversation from that point forward to that’s kind of my tip is to let them lead the conversation. I didn’t want to, you know, do that interrogation thing. Who’s sitting next to you? And did you talk to your friends? And are you happy to see them and all of these other things that are kind of running through my head, I wanted to give her whatever space grace that she needed, and take that opportunity to do so. So I tried to utilize both of those tips. And you know, initially, if I really would maybe if I wasn’t in the right headspace, maybe I would have responded more poorly after she said I already told mom, but I tried to give her a little more space. Let’s move on to our next tip. Mike, tell me a little bit more about supporting kids and how did you put it exactly you said supporting their thinking brain?

Unknown Speaker 9:54
Yeah, so you know, as we kind of said, like just the example with your daughter right that you just And again, my oldest daughter is a sophomore in college. So she’s just moved into her first apartment. And she’s a five and a half hour drive away in the middle of downtown Austin, you know, so there’s a lot kind of going on in her world with our busyness and she’s trying to figure out a lot of the in, you know, as a freshman living in a dorm, or living in an apartment, get your own groceries, all that type of stuff. And as I mentioned earlier, my junior in high school just started to take dual credit classes, she’s driving to school, there’s just kind of more on her plate as well, too. And I think it’s really critically important to always think about, like how the brain is kind of operating how the brain is working. And we call that front part of the brain or thinking part of the brain or the prefrontal cortex. And sometimes you hear it called the executive front functioning center, what I want you to think about when you’re coming on to a conversation with your kiddo, whether it’s in person, it’s FaceTime, it’s a call, it’s some way, maybe even through tax, try to think about this. And this is a very helpful thing for me. Always try to think connection, before direction. Okay. And what I mean by that is, it’s really easy if my daughter who’s a junior walks through the door, and I’m at home, and I’ll be like, Hey, you got a lot of homework tonight, let’s get started on your homework, you got some chores to do. And you got to practice later on. And you know, start rifling all these things at her. When I know when I come home from work, even as an adult, I kind of want to see the people in my house for who they are for the people that are my family, right. And that idea of how do you connect with your kid or your kiddos in the age level they’re at and what’s most important, appropriate is a really important thing to be able to do. So I know for my youngest, she’s more introverted. So oftentimes, it’s this the body language with me being really calm with my body language, and just kind of giving her a little head nod and kind of that little goofy smile. And she’ll just kind of come right over to me and put my arm around me and she just wants to chill, she just needs to take a moment and just kind of breathe easy and all that. And with my oldest, oftentimes, she’ll FaceTime me, or she’ll call me since she’s away at college. And with her, she’s gonna want to rifle like seven things that happened right away, because in her mind, it’s, I got to tell you these things before I forget them. But you know what’s interesting, and maybe you probably see this with your kids in college, too. It’s like, if you’re not there to experience it with them, when they’re out of town, they want to share all those experiences with you. Even when sometimes they’re not positive, but they’re a little bit more negative, when they have that opportunity to truly connect. So before I ever say anything, like hey, have you gotten a job yet? Or how are your grades going? How do you bought groceries, I mean, dependent laundry, you know, any of that type of stuff? What is that connection point for that other human being that you can provide. But knowing how that other human being truly connects first, is critically important. So it’s just a really good thing to think about with your kids. And it will help their stress level and that venting, just kind of subside and come down quite a bit. You always think about, okay, how am I going to connect? How am I going to connect plenty of times to direct later on, but it’s such an easier part to stay and help them in their thinking part of their brain as well.

Adam Salgat 13:34
That’s what I was gonna say that connection before direction. So once you’ve made that connection, and they’re, they’re feeling connected with you, I’m sure they’re gonna probably hear you better when you do ask questions that maybe they are thinking of, maybe they’re not thinking of, and they’re gonna, they’re gonna absorb it better.

Unknown Speaker 13:50
Yeah, and you know, like Mickey said it earlier, too. It’s amazing what they’ll just tell you, but you kind of already wanted to know. Yeah, sometimes it’s a really easy read to say, hey, they’re just exhausted, like, yeah, we’ll chill out for a long time. Maybe they’re just hungry. Maybe they’re thirsty, maybe they just need some time to go watch SpongeBob you know, they just had so much at them with a lot of direction already through the day. You know, sometimes they just maybe go hang out with a dog or go outside of the swing and play or whatever it is. It’s just that opportunity for them to come back to the level to understand, hey, now I’m a family member. And how do I shift out of that school zone as well, too?

Adam Salgat 14:32
That’s awesome. Mickey, I know your last tip here, kind of, obviously, you know, it piggybacks in way off of what Mike was just talking about when they come to you. So let’s, let’s talk about reflectively listening.

Speaker 3 14:45
Yeah, so you know, when we’re talking about really, really any time of the year with your, you know, your young child, your teenager, your young adult, but at the beginning of the school year, you know, Adam, you were describing all the things that happen in that transition part. At the beginning of the school year, and as you were rattling off that list, I can feel my emotional level go up. So if I can feel that at 51, imagine what a six year old feels or a freshman moving into, their emotional levels are up, they might be super excited, they might be super frustrated, but they’re going through a lot. And one of the things that’s hard not to do as a parent, is when your child is experiencing problems at school, it’s really hard not to fix it for him. It’s hard because we love them, it’s hard, because we care about them, we’ve got to take a moment, go back to what Mike was saying about that executive functioning part of the brain, because that’s a developing part of the brain. And we want to support that development, because we don’t want a 35 year old child, that comes back to us to fix every problem. So when your kiddo comes to you, you know, particularly it’s, it’s stressful, it’s the first week of school, you might have a six year old whose little friend at school took their toy away from them, you might have a middle schooler who doesn’t have a friend to sit with them at lunch, you might have a freshman in college and can’t find a dining hall, whatever those problems are, when they call you, when they come to you with those problems, it’s important to remember that their emotional level is up. And that executive functioning part of that brain can’t function until you get that emotion down. There’s only really one way to get it down. And that is to listen to them. So you want to do a couple of things. You want to empathize with them. The key to empathy is just to think to yourself, please keep this to yourself. Don’t say it out loud. But think to yourself, What is my child feeling right now? Let’s say they’re frustrated. Think to yourself, I know what frustrated feels like. That’s empathy right there. Then listen a little bit to what’s going on with them. Listen to the feeling they’re having. And just say, it sounds like you’re frustrated because you couldn’t find friends at the lunch table. It sounds like you’re angry, because your best friend took your toy away. I can tell you, you’re sad because you haven’t met anyone in the dorm yet. You just need to stay in that listening mode, but stay out of problem solving. At that moment, if you get their emotion level down, then you can get them back into using that logical part of their brain. And problem solved with them. Now one key thing to remember is, depending on the age of your child, helping them problem solve looks very different. For a six year old, whose little friend took their toy away, you might need to say, let’s let me help you think of some words that you could say to your friend. And maybe I’ll even go with you while you do it. Right? If your college kiddo calls you, and they haven’t met anybody in the dorm on day one, give it a little time. They’re young adults, and you want them to go out into the world in a few years having thought of their own solutions to their own problems. The way you can connect with them is not to solve the problem for them, but to empathize with them and what they’re feeling. That’s all they need from you in that moment.

Adam Salgat 18:11
I love that tip. So you’re so you’re saying don’t jump in the car with more pillows for their dorm room.

Speaker 3 18:17
Don’t go run and write to them. They will they will, they’ll figure it out. And it might take a day. And it might take a month. But they’ll think of some solutions. They’ll give it a try. They’ll fail and they’ll try something else.

Adam Salgat 18:34
Great, great reminders.

Unknown Speaker 18:36
And it’s hard, right? Mickey? Were the parents? Because you sometimes want to say but you’re absolutely right. So

Speaker 3 18:43
Oh, super hard. It’s super hard because we love them. And we care about them.

Adam Salgat 18:49
Can you guys talk a little bit about the importance of setting these, this groundwork at the beginning of the school year,

Unknown Speaker 18:55
I think the groundwork should always be going but understanding that the beginning of the school year, Mickey mentioned emotions and stress and all that kind of talked about a little bit. So we in order to be able to think well, you know, we got to be in that front part of that brain. And so the more we’re able to allow kids to process and think and have conversations and vent out and not always just, you know, Mickey’s got a problem, boom, I tried to solve it. You know, Mickey’s got another problem, boom, I try to solve it. It allows them that not forced, but that way of their brain kind of developing in a way to think for themselves and be more resilient. Because, you know, we have this idea a little bit in society that like we need to have like these perfect lives for ourselves and for our kids. And life’s not really that way. We need to understand resiliency, and we need to know how to work through problems and situations, because that’s true life. And if we don’t understand how to help our kids through that and not do it for them, and how do you appropriately do it for them at their age developments. Development. totally appropriate, then we can actually hinder our kids later on in life. We’ve always said with my wife and I, that we want to raise strong, independent women, right? Well, that’s cool. And that sounds awesome. But we have to be prepared when they’re 17 or 18 years old, and they’re independent, they’re gonna want to do things that, you know, we can’t push back on, but we have to support them, and the other way around. So it’s kind of a give and take, and that beginning of the school year, there’s just a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. And the more we can just support them through this time period. Because the more they’re stressed, as parents, oftentimes we find ourselves more stressed. But remember, we’re the best role model that they have. Right? So how we role model through that resiliency, and allowing those feelings to really come out, are critically important as well, if they’re angry, if they’re sad, you know, what, if that’s their feelings, it’s okay, let’s help them process through those. So they can make a better behavior choice than a non productive behavior choice as well.

Adam Salgat 21:00
Anything else you’d like to add? Mickey?

Speaker 3 21:03
Yeah, the one thing I would say is, you know, even the most confident kid, if you think about it, one of the least sort of confident times of the year for kids is when they start a new school year. Yeah, they just they’re not sure, right, they’ve got new teachers, they might have a new living space, new friends in the classroom, their best friend didn’t get put their second grade classroom with them, it’s a very difficult time, even if they don’t want to admit it. If you start off the school year, as soon as they have a little problem, or a big problem, and you walk alongside them, and let you let them come up with some solutions, and try, you are starting that they, you’re starting that school year off with them feeling very empowered, and confident because they fixed a problem. And that really can turn it around for them. Instead of you jumping in and fixing it doesn’t mean that there’s never a time where you say, okay, you’ve tried a couple things, let’s try this, or here’s an idea for you. It’s not that that time does never come. But it doesn’t come when their emotional level is so high. Just feel it alongside of them, walk alongside them, and give them the chance to try an idea and build their confidence. And as Mike said, resiliency because if we stand there, and you’re if you picture a kid or like a tree, I mean, this is a simple analogy. But picturing like a tree, if you stand there and you hold that tree as it grows up, it’s never going to understand how to handle the wind, and the storms and the rain. You’ve got to back up a little bit and let it grow and let it build resistance to that and resiliency. And that’s what we want to do for our kids. We don’t want to be the problem solver and everything for them. We want to support them as they learn to do it for themselves. At the start of the school year is a great time to let them try that because then the next story they have will be Hey, Mom, Hey, Dad, I tried this and it worked. Look what I did.

Unknown Speaker 22:52
I love her sometimes even fighting through that. So I tried it. And I think I know a better way next time and you’re just like, yep, then you can hold the Olympic parent torch. Five seconds until the next problem comes out. But yeah, it’s awesome. Like to really think through that.

Adam Salgat 23:09
It sounds like you’re really giving them and this is kind of a buzzword right now. But you’re giving them the opportunity to develop some grit, you know, yeah, it’s a nuts a definitely a buzzword. But that’s what resiliency is, it’s grit. It’s that ability to pick yourself back up even when you did it, did it wrong, or maybe it just failed for reasons that were out of your control, and you pick yourself back up, you withstand that wind as the child tree. I love that analogy. It’s very visual, and it’s perfect.

Speaker 3 23:41
And then Adam, if I can just add, this is gonna be tough. For some parents, it’s hard for me still, I’ve got a senior in college and a freshman in college, it’s very difficult to just make sure as a parent, then after you’ve listened to them, and you hang up the phone, and now you’re a little bit of a mess of emotions. Find your person to talk to about that. Because it’s not I mean, Mike and I are making it sound really, you know, just maybe a little bit on the easy side, but it’s not easy. And so you then after that might need to say I’m calling my best friend, because now I’m super upset because my college kid doesn’t have the her best friend.

Adam Salgat 24:19
Such good advice you guys. Thank you so much for taking the time to give everyone out there the opportunity to you know, take in some tips and think about the stress of the new school year and how they can handle it and connect with their kids. You’re welcome.

Unknown Speaker 24:33
Thanks, Adam.

Unknown Speaker 24:34
Thanks for having us, Adam. We appreciate it.