It used to be that when my kids would come home from school, I’d ask them the two questions parents have been asking their children since the dawn of mandatory education:
“What did you do in school today?”
“How was your day today?”
Their answers to these queries were as invariable as the rising and setting of the sun: “Nothing” and “Good.”
I was bugged by those content-less replies, but I don’t know why I expected anything different. After all, that’s what I told my mom when I was a lad and she asked me what I’d been up to.
I really do want to know what’s going on in my kids’ lives and what they’re learning at school; I’d like to have slightly more expansive conversations with them. So I figured there had to be a better way to get them to open up when we’re hanging out at the end of the day. And indeed, there is.
A Few Ground Rules
Don’t barrage them with questions right away. Think back to when you were a kid and your parents hit you with a ton of questions about school as soon as you walked through the door.
It was annoying.
You just wanted to decompress and play some SNES while eating a Dunkaroo rather than getting the third degree about your day.
Well, your kid probably feels the same way. So give her some time to relax a little instead of going into “How was your day?” questions as soon as she gets home from school.
Of course, if you don’t work from home like me, you probably won’t see your kids until you’re done with your day at the office. In that case, dinnertime will be a good chance to catch up on how your children’s day went. (Here are some more tips for getting the most out of family meals.)
Keep it open ended. Don’t only ask “closed” yes or no questions, which have a tendency to shut down the conversation. Instead, ask more open-ended questions that elicit more expansive answers; these usually begin with What, How, and Why.
Don’t ask for a blow-by-blow account of their day. Imagine if someone asked you “So what was the first thing you did at work? And then what did you do? And then what did you do after that? And after that?”
You’d want to karate chop them in the throat. Most of what you do at work is boring and repetitive, and not something you want to recount to someone else.
Well, your kid feels the same way about school. So don’t ask for a blow-by-blow rundown of his day because it usually doesn’t change all that much. Instead, focus your questions on anomalies he experienced that day (suggestions on that below).
Try again later if they’re not engaging. If, despite your best efforts, your kids aren’t engaging in conversation, abort mission and try again later. They probably don’t want to talk right then, but maybe they’ll want to later.
Better Questions to Ask Your Kids About How Their Day Went
Below is a list of questions that I’ve experimented with and gotten good mileage from when asking my kids about their school day. I’ve found that focusing questions on anomalies elicits the most response; it’s that kind of stuff that sticks out in their memory and that they enjoy recounting. So ask your kids questions about weird, funny, awkward, or unique moments that happened during their day.
- What was for lunch? (People like to talk about food and kids are people. This single question rarely fails to elicit five minutes of chatter from my kids about how gross or good the school lunch was that day.)
- What was the funniest thing that happened today?
- Did someone get in big trouble at school today? What did they do?
- Did you make a new friend today? What do you like about them? (This question is probably best suited for younger kids. If you’re asking a 13-year-old if they made new friends that day, you’re probably going to get eyerolls.)
- What did you do at recess today?
- Who did you play with at recess?
- What special classes (i.e., art, music, PE) did you do today?
- What did you notice today at school that other people probably didn’t notice?
- Was anyone kind to you today? How were you kind to others?
- Were you able to help someone today with a problem?
- Were any of your buddies not at school today? Do you know why they were gone?
- Did anything weird or embarrassing happen today?
- What would you change about school?
- What did you like best about today?
- What was the easiest thing you did today?
- What was the hardest thing you did today?
- Who do you sit next to in class? Tell me about them.
- What’s something new that you learned today? What’s something new you did today?
- Did your teacher or classmate give you any compliments?
- Got any big field trips coming up?
- Who is your favorite teacher this year? (Good for older kids who have multiple teachers.)
- Who is your least favorite teacher this year?
- What’s one thing you’re grateful for today?
- Were you brave today? How?