Getting Your Kids to Talk After School

Now that the school year has begun, parents everywhere are grappling with the same question: “How do I get my kids talking about their days after I pick them up from school?” Well, the first tip is to not just ask them, “How was your day?” each day. Here are a few more…

Don’t overwhelm kids with questions right away. Kids are little people with big emotions and feelings and need time to process like the rest of us (sometimes even more). When they get in the car after school, they’ve just spent a very busy day running from subject to subject and friend to friend, all while trying to be “good” and please those around them. They might need a minute or two to breathe or finish thinking about something that happened today, so give them those couple of minutes. It will give them time to process their days and any thoughts that are on their minds so that they are more ready to engage in your questions when you ask.

Use open-ended questions. If you ask a question like, “Did you have a good day?,” don’t be disappointed if the answer is as simple as, “Yes.” You set up the question for an answer like that. Kids are often very literal in giving you exactly the answer that they think addresses your question (nothing more and nothing less), so encourage more conversation by keeping your questions open-ended (meaning that they cannot be answered with just a “yes” or “no”) or if you do ask yes/no questions, be ready with a follow up question.

Interview for positivity rather than for pain. Kids take their cues from you, so if you ask questions that lead towards a negative narrative, they will focus on the negative in their answers. For example, if you ask questions like, “Were people mean to you?” or “Was math really boring today?,” kids will look at their day from a negative mindset and look for those “pain” moments in order to give you what they think you want. Alternatively, if you ask things like, “What was the best part of your day?” and “How did you help someone today?,” the lens through which they view their day shifts and so do their answers.

Reinforce what you want to see. Parents send subtle messages with the questions they ask kids, sharing with them what they value and what is important, so recognize this and use this to make sure your kids understand what you hope to see. Asking questions like, “How were you kind today?” or “How did you help a classmate?” shows that you value kindness and compassion and sends a signal to your kids that that behavior is what you are seeking.

Watch your reactions. Parents act as emotional barometers for their kids, and kids learn what their reactions and feelings should be from how they see parents react. If you make a big deal out of a situation, your kids will learn to make a big deal out of a situation. How many times have you seen a kid fall on the playground and be fine until a parent rushes over and says something like, “Oh my gosh, that looked like it really hurt; are you okay?,” and then the child bursts into tears? Your kids will look to you for guidance as to how they should react, so make sure that is conscious guidance.

Mix it up a little. We all get tired answering the same questions day after day. So instead of always asking, “How was your day?” and getting the same response of, “Good,” try adding some variety to your questions. Asking different questions each day encourages your kids to stop and reflect before answering instead of giving the same prescribed answer each day, which often leads to your getting a bit more information from them.

Listen. Kids are smart. They know when you’re asking questions just because and when you’re asking questions because you genuinely care about their answers. If you aren’t invested in hearing their answers, they won’t be invested in actually giving you anything. So stop, put down your phone, pause your conversation on the playground, listen for your kids’ answers and ask follow-up questions to show that you are actively listening.

With that in mind, here are a few different questions to get you started:

  • How were you kind to someone today?

  • What is something new you learned?

  • What is something you’re excited about learning tomorrow?

  • What was the best part of your day?

  • With whom did you sit at lunch?

  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?

  • Who made you smile today?

  • Did you make any new friends? Tell me about them.

  • With whom did you play at recess? What did you do?

  • What are you excited about or tomorrow?

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