We know the feeling. You want to know about every minute of your children’s first days of school (What did you learn? What did you have for your lunch? Did you make friends? How is your teacher?). Yet the conversation in the car after pick up, or during dinner, or dropping off at basketball is, “It was fine.”
Before your mind gets to racing that your child is suffering through bullying or boredom, rest easy. You may just need to ask a slightly different question. Here are some tips to avoid the dreaded “fine,” and get your kids sharing about their first days of school. What’s more – these tips work beyond the first days of school.
If you want to read more, we recommend “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk,” to get sentence stems to get kids talking and cues adults for how to listen and respond in a way that encourages children to share.
- Ask a different question. Instead of “How was school?” ask a different question – or at least expect that “how was school” is the beginning, softball question. Your kid just spent eight hours in a busy place and it’s hard for children (and adults) to isolate what happened. Let’s be real – what is your default answer to “how was your day?”
Instead, ask about a specific part of the day.
“Tell me about recess today. Who did you play with? What game did you play?”
“Did anything embarrass you at school (or work :)) today? What happened? Say more.”
“Did you feel prepared for your test today? Why or why not?”
“What did you have for lunch? Was it good?”
“Did you make anyone laugh today?”
“What was your high (or low) today?”
- Ask the specific question. If there’s something specific you want to know- ask that! Our kids know when we’re trying to get “at” something and therefore, are more likely to respond to specific questions. Are you worried about their math class? A student they struggled with last year being in their class again? Ask specifically about that and be ready to listen. While it can be hard to not respond, simply sharing an assuring “oh really!” or “say more!” can get kids talking even more.
- Create a routine! While activities like “Rose and Thorn” or “High and Low” may be habit from summer camp or closing circle at school, it’s also a great addition to the car ride home or dinner conversation. You can use these bits of conversation to follow up on later. When kids know they are going to have a question to answer over the day their brain gets more primed it. And while answers can be generic – and honestly not that interesting – when they are younger, as they age their answers get more interesting and revealing. And make sure you are sharing too – both to model for them and remind them that highs and lows are part of life.
- Share something yourself. Back to school is a transition time for you, too, and sharing what’s new or hard or especially fun for you helps create a shared discussion, rather than Q&A. Your kids love knowing that you too feel emotions they do – fear, joy, excitement, embarrassment. And, make sure to tell them why you want to know about their day, and how happy it makes you when they share.
- Steal classroom practices! An emotion chart doesn’t need to be constrained to the classroom. It can help your younger children communicate their emotions more precisely and builds their emotion vocabulary at the same time. Are they happy with school, or are they excited about their new friend? Did they have a bad day or are they frustrated with how hard reading is this year?
- Multi-task/take the pressure off the conversation! Do something else while chatting: take a walk, make a snack together, play a card game, run a mysterious errand that includes a long car ride, and let the conversation come from there. Kids are asked a whole lot of things during the day, so having a few minutes to shift their brain and attention to something else will help them open up.
Getting kids to talk isn’t easy – but it is doable. Just be specific, be consistent, be authentic, and have fun! And then you can share back some of what you’re learning back with your school if you are a Possip parent :).
Author: Sarah Mueller