But chauffer is perhaps the one word that strikes dread into the hearts of many parents, especially when it comes to carpooling.
A car full of rambunctious kids doesn’t sound like a picnic in the park. But before you bristle at the thought of the never-ending pick-ups, drop-offs and miles on the road, carpooling can be an invaluable window into your child’s world. It’s a time when you get the chance to see—and hear—them interacting with their peers and dishing on what goes on in their everyday lives.
As passengers, your child and their friends sometimes seem to forget you’re there, and engage in conversations that aren’t normally discussed in front of adults, says Katie Malinski, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families in Austin, Texas.
“It’s a funny aspect of the kid world: forgetting that their ‘driver’ is also their parent and has ears,” she says. Comfortably settled in the backseat, your kids and their friends lose track of time and space, and soon begin to chatter on about friends, teachers, music, movies, Facebook, the list goes on and on. Be prepared, however; you may hear things that will surprise you and the inevitable questions will come up.
According to Malinski, the answer is no.“Take a deep breath and try to shelve your emotions for the moment,” she says. “Pretend you’re a social anthropologist and this is your field observation. You’re in this car specifically to find out what’s really going on in the heads of your chosen population: school-age children.”
Malinski suggests, like any good professional, trying to be “invisible” and not distracting, while taking mental notes.“Say nothing,” she says. “And pay attention to your own feelings and take note of them, too. This will all come in handy later.”A different approach would be to take the therapist role, mostly listening, talking the least and asking questions.“You, as therapist, won’t pass judgment or share your own opinions. Rather, if you talk at all, it will be to gently offer questions that are designed to bring to light the thought processes, beliefs and values of your child.
Such questions include: What do you think of that? What does that word mean to you? Have you ever talked about that with your friends? What do they think? Once you’ve posed the questions, let your child and their friends do all the talking.”Carpooling also allows you to learn about your child’s friends. Who’s the bossy one, the sweet one, the queen bee, the wannabe?
Once all the kids are dropped off and you’re back at home, take a few moments to review your notes, collect your thoughts and make a plan of action, says Malinski. “Maybe while you and your child are making dinner, or cleaning up after dinner, or alone in the car,” she says. “You could start the conversation with something like, ‘Remember when Casey said… What did you think about that?’”
“Now that you know what’s going on in your child’s life, reinforce that you’re an ‘ask-able parent’ and gently share your values and/or correct any misinformation that your child may have. Keep the relationship in mind at all times.”The thing to remember is that being the chauffeur doesn’t last forever. Soon, your kids will be driving themselves and this valuable access into their world will be gone. Take advantage of this time. Drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the backseat banter. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.