For some children, the question "How was your day?" is all they need to launch into a chatty description of every moment since you parted. But for others, as eagerly as their parents inquire about their day, what often follows can be anything but comforting to a parent. From a crickets' silence to a monosyllabic "fine", from the alarming "we didn't do anything in class today" to the worrisome "I hate school" rant, their reply, or lack thereof, can be disconcerting for moms and dads, if not downright painful.
Where are the delightful anecdotes from a day spent learning? Where are the funny, touching stories about their friends or teachers? Where is their wish to share their day's experiences with their dearly interested moms and dads?
Nowhere to be found, apparently.
Since the parents have often spent their day imagining their child's day, their kid's lack of response can drive parents to worry about their child's state of being. Are their kids depressed? Are they in some sort of social or academic trouble? Or even, does their kid like them enough to want to talk to them about their day?
All of these can leave a mom and dad feeling helpless, worried, or even irrelevant to their children -- at the very moment they had looked forward to all day.
So what is going on with their child, and how can a parent best cope with the unintended silent treatment?
First, take a deep breath. Then -- and this is a key -- focus on how your child may be feeling, rather than how they may be behaving.
Consider: your child has been through an experience that can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Even if it was a positive experience, they are likely fatigued. By the time a parent picks them up from school, or greets them when they arrive home, the child may well need some time to "decompress", if not withdraw to recuperate for their coming day.
Not much different from an adult, when you think about it.
What do you do to try to unwind from a day's gauntlet of emotional and intellectual challenges?
Children need to unwind, too. They just have had less time to develop either the self awareness or the strategies many adults spend years trying to perfect to deal with stress.
Thus, a child's need to not talk may be a very understandable and human response to the world. Besides, they can't operate on their parent's schedules, anymore than they can control their school schedules.
Thus, it is important to recognize that just as your interest in your child may be cresting, your child's capacity to respond to you may be at its low ebb.
So what's a mom or dad, brimming with interest, and eager to nip any of their child's challenges in the bud, to do?
Perhaps welcome them with a greeting rather than a question. An "It's good to see you" instead of a "How was your day" can be helpful. Allow them time to signal if they want to talk, or if quiet would be most helpful to them at that moment. You can also volunteer a story about your day -- not a long, involved description -- just a small anecdote will do. And then listen and remain engaged and available. Note the non-verbal ways they may be communicating, especially in their body language.
They may still be assessing such concerns as: did their friends include them in their conversations and activities? Did they, or didn't they, sit with their friends at lunch? And more often than not, did that special boy or girl signal they liked them, as much they secretly like that boy or girl?
In their complex, nuanced world where the smallest interaction can make or break their day, answering question about how their day was may seem, to them, decidedly beside the point.
To encourage further communication, try to eat with them whenever possible. Cultivate family rituals, such as a regular time with them before they go to bed, or perhaps a regular weekend walk -- on which you make every effort to not use your cellphone. In short, find ways to let them know there will be some kind reserved, special time in which you will be there for them in a way that doesn't require much eye contact or face-to-face contact - because it can be much easier for all of us to open up when we don't feel put on the spot.
And if they continue to seem withdrawn or depressed, you can always ask their teachers or counselors. Check to see what they are like at school: do they play with friends? Or do they sit in a corner? Are they engaged with their classes? Or do they avoid their teachers? If there's a problem your child can't tell you about, for whatever reason, it is often their teachers who will be able to offer you some insight into whether your concerns are real, or just the consequence of your child's way to unwind.
Lastly, if your child talks about how they hate school, remember, they feel safe at home -- safe enough to say what they can't at school. It may be a phase or a release, rather than a chronic, debilitating condition.
But if their complaints persists, or are combined with other behaviors that indicate they are withdrawing from friends and teachers, too, you can address those in concerns in more proactive ways, of which counseling may be a helpful dimension.
As always, please send us any questions you may have as a parent or a child care of "Dear Dancing Parent". We will post and respond to as many of your questions as we can. You can email us care of The Huffington Post, or at our website, TheDancingParent.com. Until next time, keep dancing.