“How was your day?” “Fine” or “meh.” This type of response can be frustrating as a parent. You just want to engage your child in a conversation, you genuinely care about their day and all you get is “meh.” Well there are two things going on here. One is, your child may be just “done” after their day at school. Done with talking, done with engaging, done with explaining and smiling and acting like they don’t care that their best friend sat with someone else today. Being a child in school is actually really hard work because it is quite unnatural for children to be in that setting. Most adapt, but there are consequences and the “shutting down” is a form of self-care and restoration.
Some children just want to be alone, before opening up about their day, and that is their choice. Some children want to vent, but aren’t being motivated to, for whatever reason. Sometimes it is the questions we ask that actually stop the conversation in it’s tracks. We ask “how was your day?” That is a 1 word answer question, that’s what we receive and we feel slighted. Try asking open-ended questions instead:
1. What happened at school today?
2. How did that make you feel?
3. What were you thinking about?
4. What did you do?
5. What did your friends do?
6. What do you think will happen next time?
7. Can you tell me about something that made you feel good today?
8. Can you tell me about something that made you laugh today?
There is no need to ask if something “sad” happened. That will come out in conversation. If they do share a challenge you can ask:
1. How did that make you feel?
2. What did you do?
3. How do you feel about it now?
4. What can I do to help? (not always necessary, we want to walk the fine balance between being supportive and allowing our children to solve their own problems)
5. What do you think you will do next time this happens?
If your child has had an issue at school, even “misbehaving”, this is also a good script to discuss the situation. I always stress that the truth is much more important to me than whatever he did.
Many children will still say “nothing” when asked “what happened at school today?” As I said, this is likely a sign that they do not want to talk right now, but later, after a snack and some “wind down time”, try these conversation starters:
1. Can you tell me about something you created today?
2. Can you tell me about something you learned today? (Now if they tell you that they learned that Billy has a booger collection with over 300 boogers under his desk, respond with as much enthusiasm as you would if he had just told you about the life cycle of the tree. You can say “that’s gross!” But say it with enthusiasm, lol)
3. Can you tell me about something kind you did today?
4. Can you tell me about something kind somebody did for you today?
Children do want to talk to us but often we respond with judgement and a heavy amount of “fixing.” This can be stressful for them. We all know what it feels like when we are trying to vent to a friend and they keep coming up with solutions and minimizing our feelings. We do this as parents to pacify and “teach” our children but it often feels like judgement from where they are standing. How we respond to what our children say, will likely impact their desire to share information in the future. Making sure my child feels safe to talk to me about anything is very important to me as a parent. How we respond to the things they share with us can build trust. So if your going to ask questions that elicit more detail, be sure you are ready to support them, as they share the answers.
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