Fed up of being stonewalled by your children when you ask what they did at school? One dad used TV cop tactics to figure out how to interrogate your kids.
Here’s a conversation that will sound familiar to many parents – the daily torture of trying to elicit information from a child about their day.
“How was school?”
“What did you do at school today?”
“Did you have a good day?”
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As I wait to pick my kid up from school, on the rare occasion that I do it (thank you Mrs H), I can see him in the classroom, all happy and chatty with his mates. I don’t know what sort of forcefield or mind-control device they have in the classroom doorway, but as he passes through it he seems to lose all ability to speak coherently.
The shifting crowd of other parents around the door means there’s usually no chance to ask his teachers anything about how he’s getting on. The quiet of waiting in the playground becomes a frantic swirl of bodies, bags, and coats, and then I find myself walking home with a mute approximation of my son.
However hard I try I can’t get a sensible word out of him about school, so we shuffle home together, me fruitlessly trying to engage him conversation.
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It struck me the other day that there’s a comparative experience that might help me. I want my son to open up, he doesn’t want to; I keep putting questions to him, he refuses to answer them.
It’s like a police interview. I’m the world-weary cop who’s getting too old for this shit, my son is the cocky street kid who acts tough but isn’t. Maybe I could take some ideas from cop dramas to get my son to talk?
The perp always talks in the end, so I tried some standard techniques from police movies/TV shows. Here’s how I did at playing copper.
Good Cop/Bad Cop
Straight out of the gate I tried the old classic. This works better with two people but Mrs H wasn’t around. Also, she’s too nice to be the bad cop and is prone to tell me off when I do it. I asked my son a question about his day which he didn’t answer, so I suggested that if he isn’t inclined to answer the question, I’m not inclined to let him watch TV.
This was a rookie mistake. There was no way I would follow through on that and the kid knew it. My attempt to then play good cop by telling him he could watch TV if he answered my questions just sounded like the pathetic back peddling of a crazy old man. He still didn’t answer.
This technique may work but make sure you have a partner. It’s no job for a lone wolf cop.
Any copper worth his salt knows not to ask yes/no questions.
You need to phrase a question in such a way that the perp is obligated to answer with information. You can’t ask, “Did you have a nice day at school?” because you’ll only ever get “yes” or “no”.
So I tried to come up with a great opening question to get the ball rolling. I went with, “What did you enjoy about school today?” The response I got was soul destroying. “Nothing.”
At this point I felt less Wallander and more Inspector Fowler from The Thin Blue Line. I needed to up my game.
The Walk Through
I’ve seen this on loads of cop shows. Get the suspect a coffee and a cigarette and ask them to describe their whereabouts and what they were doing. I decided to go with milk and a chocolate chip cookie for the suspect, but I got myself a coffee and briefly wondered if I had time to go and buy some doughnuts.
“Ok let’s start at the beginning,” I said. It was a rather threatening start to the conversation – I was taking the cop thing a bit too seriously – so I dialled it back a bit when I saw the worry on my son’s face.
“What was the first thing you did when you got into the classroom this morning?”
Either this kid is a criminal mastermind or I’m not quite the brilliant investigator I think I am. I tried again with, “What did you do after registration?”. He replied, “School stuff.”
It was never like this for D.I. Lund from The Killing. I started to think he’d never crack and give up the goods, but I had one last technique to try before I’d resort to bugging his classroom.
It struck me that, despite my best efforts, I am not Columbo and my son is not a homicide suspect. He’s clever for a five-year-old but he is a five-year-old. I decided to use his intelligence against him because I know he won’t be able to resist correcting me.
“I heard that you did PE after the register today, that’s cool.” The effect was immediate.
“No we didn’t! I do PE on a Wednesday and it is a Tuesday and anyway I didn’t take my PE stuff with me so I couldn’t do it. After register we did phonics actually.”
Success! I decided to push on with the silly daddy angle.
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“Oh, OK, but it must have been nice to have that trip to the museum after lunch because you don’t like phonics.” This really fired him up.
“Daddy! I love phonics! And we didn’t go on a trip today because if we did then mummies or daddies have to come and no one did, so we wouldn’t. After phonics we did maths where we had to do number sentences and I did mine and when I had done them….”
By now I couldn’t shut him up. I had found the key but opened the floodgates. I was so focused on achieving my goal I didn’t think of the consequences. I created a monster. I neglected the wise words of Uncle Ben (Peter Parker’s uncle, not the rice guy): “With great power comes great responsibility.”
I’d be listening to him going on about school all evening. I should have bought those doughnuts.