Whatcha doin’?

Her little voice piped up whenever she found herself with a willing listener.

It was the well-used question one of our girls offered as she made conversation with friends, young and old. It usually got people going with a story about their latest activities. She would then launch forth into her own explanation of how her day was going.

The thing was, she was barely two years old!

When she grew up to be a school girl, I had no trouble finding out how things were going in her class. Every afternoon I would get the full story: How the teacher said this – or her girlfriend said that – or that someone was in big trouble today!

Now an adult, our daughter is as outgoing as they come. She is always ready to be someone’s friend, or to help someone out. She is unfazed at the size of her audience, or at filling up silence in a conversation.

One Time Only

On the other hand, I also have introverts in my family. One of my two boys took much longer to get his head around speech. There was nothing wrong, it simply took another year or so. For example, as a two-year-old he was prepared to say each word he learnt, once. And once only!

“Train!” he pointed out one day as we sat in the car waiting at a level crossing. And that was the one moment we heard him say it.

“Cheese!” he said at breakfast. It was one of his favourite foods. But did we hear it repeated? Nope.

“Water!” Even though he drank water at every meal, the word was spoken just once.

My guess is he knew he could say it, so why should he say it again? It wasn’t until he was well past his third birthday that he began to verbalise, and suddenly it was a tumble of sentences.

However when he was older, trying to get information out of him after school was an interesting challenge. And his older brother was the same. Our afternoon walks home down the hill, through the leafy park (much like the picture above), were full of newsy items from my girls. But grunts and nods were often all I could gather from the boys as they ran wild and free downhill. Sometimes I had to quieten the girls, so I could catch the boys’ snatches of news!

That particular son is now also a grown-up. He too, is as ready as his sister to be someone’s friend, or to help someone in need. But he doesn’t command the same space she does, and prefers to be in the background. Although it has to be said, he is still happy to stand in front of a crowd when necessary. He surprised everyone when he gave the Best Man’s Speech at his mate’s wedding! Mostly though, he doesn’t seek the limelight like his sister. He is energized by being on his own. On the other hand, as an extrovert, our daughter is energized by being with others.

When it comes to being outgoing, these are the two extremes in my tribe.

The other three fall somewhere between them.

And that’s the thing. Each child is different. You would think in a family of five siblings you might get lots of similarities, but to be honest you find more differences!

As a mother with young children, I soon learned to tailor my responses depending on the child. Yes – there was one set of basic rules when it came to discipline and expectations. But each child was different.

I decided it was very important to throw away the cookie-cutter thinking, and to relate to them as individuals.

I had a big after-school challenge with my boys though. Because how do you get someone to tell you what’s going on for them with one word replies?

I didn’t ever get very good at this. Something about running around with five children makes it difficult to think through strategies very well. (Most likely, my mother could have taught me a thing or two here, but of course, that was not possible.)

After a while I realized it was pretty pointless asking questions with one-word answers. Although to be honest, I often caught myself asking them.

Questions such as:

“Did you have a good day?”         “YES”, came the response

“You must be feeling pretty tired now.”      “NO”, he’d say. I realise now that was a terrible one – it isn’t even a question!

“Did Charlie play with you at lunchtime?”      “YES”. Silly me, you would think I would have worked it out by then.

“Did you hand in your project okay?”                      Nod of the head. Not even any words!

I found out a lot more by asking questions like this:

I call them the W-questions, because they either start with, or have, W in them – What, Where, Why, Who, How.

“What sort of day did you have?”     “GOOD”, was his answer. Well, I suppose that’s better than Yes or No.

       “How are you feeling?”     “OK.” I mean, what was I expecting him to say?

“What did you do at lunchtime?”     “Played with Charlie.” Actually, I probably already knew that.

“What did the teacher say about your project?”     “Nothing.” Perhaps that was asking too much, as it’s unlikely a teacher would say anything at all about work as it was handed in. What did I expect?

As you can see these were still not very powerful, and it would take much more coaxing to get anything much out of them. But have a look at my recent finds! I have discovered there are other questions which really find the “chat” in chatterbox.

Try these for size:

“What problem did you solve today?” (I love this one!)

“What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”

“What part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

“Which of your friends makes you act your best?”

Where did I find such gems? I recently subscribed to parent.co. And every email I receive has one of those great silence-busting questions. They are just as good for adults as they are for children.

But thinking about it now . . . maybe this is the best and most simple of all:

“Whatcha doin?”

You can hear me talk about this here >>>

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