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Over the next month, I have the absolute pleasure of meeting each Year 9 student individually. At this meeting they explain their learning and wellbeing goals for the year, and it gives me a fantastic opportunity to try to learn at least one thing about each boy.

I often wonder what the conversation would be like if I interviewed my own son, a Year 4, about his goals for the year, or asked him what it is that he likes most about School. I highly suspect the answer would be ‘dunno’, or perhaps another one-word answer of very few syllables. In fact, that might be optimistic, as very often I get a Hmmph or a simple shrug of the shoulders when I ask about his day.

On the surface, young men aren’t great at communication. I remember being equally as guilty when I was a young man, and almost feeling it was an invasion of my privacy if Mum dared to ask how my day was. Funnily enough, things have changed. I talk to Mum a number of times a week now, and I not only tell her about my day or week, but I even talk about my feelings. I think I’ve made some progress in the last 30 years.

We do assume boys aren’t great at talking. But I urge you not to give up on them! I can distinctly remember at a conference a few years ago seeing a sample of work from a boy, who was asked to reflect on his service-learning project the day it finished. He wrote one sentence. The presenter then showed us the same task given to the boy six months later, where he was asked to reflect. He wrote over a page. Sometimes our boys need time to digest and truly reflect on an experience. They are deep thinkers, and when given space and time to consider, they can surprise us with what they say.

Our Deputy Headmaster, Mr Hanisch, often reminds us to ask the right questions. If we ask a student How are you going?, inevitably they will respond with ‘good’ and the conversation ends. This is why it is important to know our boys and know what interests them. Rather than how are you going? we should ask how was band rehearsal today?. You may get the good response initially, but you’ve opened a door to a conversation as we can also ask follow up questions what songs did you rehearse?, which one do you enjoy the most, why? and we should never be afraid to ask what did you find difficult or challenging?.

Dr. Gregory Lantz gives a list of nine tips for communicating with your son about an important issue. His top two are firstly to give your son advance notice you want to have a chat. This will give him time to prepare his own thoughts on the matter (although you may feel it will give him to prepare his argument for The Defence). Secondly, you should feed him first. There is a correlation between hunger and irritability, so remove that barrier from the situation.

Another sage piece of advice I have heard from many sources was that boys don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder. It is amazing how we open up more when we are actively doing something and talking, rather than sitting down eye to eye and being asked to express our feelings. Boys are more likely to talk when they are kicking the footy with each other, working in the garden, cooking up a storm or painting a room.

So, don’t give up on your son if he has the tendency, like mine, to be monosyllabic. He will open up, you just might have to wait a bit longer than you expected.

Pro Deo at Patria

David Scott
Head of Senior Years