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How I Got My Little One Talking

Photograph by Twenty20

Everywhere I turn I hear my fellow parents complaining about how they can't get any information out of their kids. They can't figure out how their preschool days are going, and it's hard to get them to cough up simple facts like what they had for lunch.

We talk about it during the morning school dropoff, we talk about it during the after school pick-up and it's all over my news feeds. Online articles even have lists of questions you are supposed to ask, and guides on how to be more specific turn friendly after-school conversations into mini interrogations.

Even though my little man will talk your face off when you first meet him, I've had trouble getting any information out of him about preschool, especially after switching roles with my husband; I'm now working the full-time job and he's at home with Aleck.

All it took was one addition to our daily routine.

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Since the work transition, I'm no longer doing the drives to and from school, I don't spend the afternoons with him playing with his marbles and reading books, and we're not running errands anymore, which was my favorite activity to do together. He thinks the produce section at the grocery store is akin to the coolest children's museum ever.

After spending the first four years of his life seeing him almost every day, I felt incredibly disconnected.

So I've had to rework my schedule, like any parent making this transition, and build quality time into our everyday routine. For instance, I wake up hours before I have to leave for work, adding 10 minutes of morning cuddles into every single morning, and leave plenty of time for extra goodbye hugs before I leave.

But after a few weeks I felt that even though we were spending this time together, I knew absolutely nothing about his day-to-day life; and after spending the first four years of his life seeing him almost every day, I felt incredibly disconnected.

And then I discovered something incredible during our morning cuddles. One day I did a voice of his favorite lovey, his parrot, and this became a huge part of our routine. Jabber the parrot would repeat everything Aleck had to say and Aleck would just laugh. Then Aleck started to tell Jabber things, speak to him as if they were equals, telling him stuff like how he was feeling that morning, if he wanted to go to preschool, and how he gets lonely when he wakes up from a nightmare.

I started to melt, but I had to stay in character, and now I've developed a whole cast of characters for him to pour his heart out to. At some point he might figure out that Jabber and I are truly one and the same, but until then I'm going to get all I can from this bonus in our daily routine.

The other trick I use is if he wants to do something, like before he plays on his iPad or when he's on the potty and he thinks he's ready to get off (though he's usually still pooping) I make him tell me three things about his day at preschool before he can get what he wants. We do this every night before bed when he's emptying his little bladder for the very last time, and it's working like a charm. Sometimes he anticipates what I'm going to say and tries to answer me quickly so he can move on, but usually he starts to tell me one detail and it leads to a whole anecdote about his days. I love it.

Keeping it to just three questions works a lot better than the barrage of questions I constantly see in other posts. Aleck learned really quickly how to turn a long list of questions into a game where he answers each one with "I don't know" and then crack himself up, while watching my face contort with a combination of frustration and amusement. He's a smart one.

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Most of these kids are smart; they don't want to just answer questions about their day. They want to play, they want to laugh, they want to watch TV—and if you're lucky they want to cuddle. Figuring out what makes your little one tick, what gets them excited and how to work these moments of connection into your everyday schedule is the best way to get to know them, to know how their days are going and to know how they are feeling.

Before I started these tricks I felt like I was there with him physically each morning and evening, but I no longer knew what he was thinking or feeling about his days. Now, when I tuck myself in at night, trying to figure out how to talk to my son is one of the few things I'm not worrying about.

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