"How was your day at school, guys?" I ask my kids every day, without fail. Their rote response is "OK" every day, without fail. They don't consciously think about their day and give me an exegesis of events — unless there's a field trip. Knowing how to get your child to talk about their school day is important for a lot of parents, so are there questions that might elicit a more open and real dialogue between you and your kids?
It's easy to fall into patterns like these as a parent. I remember my own mother asking me the same question after school, and not giving her any different response than the ones my children have given me. It's not that there wasn't anything happening — there frequently was — but opening up and sharing what was going on was difficult for me, and it is for most kids, according to Psychology Today. The article noted that your child's automatic response can be as much a self-protective behavior as it is offhanded aside. The problem is, how do we find the right questions that will guide our kids into open-ended conversations wherein they feel comfortable talking to us about their day?
As author Catherine M. Wallace famously said, "Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."
I want my kids to come to me for anything, and I want them to feel like they can, so what are some thoughtful, provoking questions to ask your child that can facilitate them talking about the small stuff? I asked several elementary school teachers and guidance counselors for some questions they've found to be helpful in getting kids to open up.
1. Ask For Specific Details
Third grade teacher Anna House of Boardman, Ohio tells Romper that general questions get general answers. She prefers asking very pinpoint specific questions that may open your eyes to other lines of questioning. Questions like "Who did you sit with at lunch?" can often lead to other, more interesting questions.
2. Focus On Their Hobbies & Interests
Natasha Chisolm, a second grade special education teacher in Brooklyn, New York, tells Romper to "Start with their interests. If you know they love reading, ask them about English class and what they read. You'll get shut down if the first thing you ask a kid, who maybe isn't super coordinated, how they fared with kickball at recess."
(Note: the author of this article was always picked last despite being the tallest in the class. To be fair, she didn't put in much — or any — effort. I mean, her books were like, right over there, on the bench.)
3. Ask Detailed, Interesting Questions
Caleb Blackfoot, a kindergarten teacher in Billings, Montana, tells Romper, "You have to be into it, because kids know when you're faking it. The little ones know when you're not excited to talk to them. Be excited about what they're excited about and they'll not stop talking about it." He suggests questions like "What was your favorite minute of the day?" Or, "What was the worst part about your lunch?" He says that often funny questions will get really genuine answers because the kids are caught off guard.
4. Make Your Kids' Day Part Of A Bigger Conversation
"Think of an anecdote in your day that you think could translate to them, or would resonate with them, and ask them if anything like that has happened in their class," Stacey Tsai, a guidance counselor in Akron, Ohio tells Romper. "Have they dealt with having to do something they hated, but did well? Has a boring school assembly lasted longer than your last quarterly meeting? Kids react to being a part of a larger conversation."
5. Give Them Some Down Time
Melynda Meyers, a fourth grade teacher from Manhattan, tells Romper, "Don't rush your kids as soon as you pick them up from school to talk about school. Talk about your plans for the rest of the night, for dinner, and let them decompress. At dinner or after dinner, that's when you should start talking about school. Give them time to process the day and take time for themselves before you bring it up."
6. Avoid 'Yes' & 'No' Questions
Amy Jackson, a guidance counselor in Brooklyn, New York tells Romper, "Don't ask closed questions unless you need a closed answer. Instead, consider asking them questions that leave the answer open, and can move the conversation forward. You need that to open more avenues of communication. Don't ask 'Did you have gym today?' Try asking 'What was your favorite part of gym class?'"