As parents we’ve all been there: Your child gets into the car, or you’re walking away from school together hand in hand, and you casually ask, “How was your day?” and you get a vague “fine” or “I dunno” or sometimes a shrug and nothing at all. It’s a challenge experienced by most parents at some point or another, a challenge that leaves them wondering what is going on in my child’s life at school and why won’t they share it with me?

We spoke with Emily Andrews, our early childhood development specialist, for some tips on how to unravel the mysteries of what our child experiences during those critical hours away from home.

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Tips for getting your child to answer, “How was school today?”

  1. Connect with your child first before questioning them about their day. Children need time to decompress after school. They’ve held it together as best they can all day and finally exhale as they enter their safe space with their parent. What they need first is not to fulfill our need for information and details. What they need is connection. 

You can connect by making simple conversation. Comment on what you see or feel, “Check out these leaves! Cool!” or share the plan “We’re going to head home and have some cider for homework time today”. Or comment on their appearance if it indicates that fun was had, “Wow, you got muddy, you must have had some fun at recess. Let’s go home and change and get really cozy.” 

  1. Tell them about your day! It doesn’t just trigger them to tell you about their day, that does sometimes happen, but it acts as a model for sharing about one’s day. “I had a pretty nice day. I did some work emails this morning, grabbed lunch with Aunt Lynn, and this afternoon a worker came by and helped us fix that broken pipe in the bathroom. He had some pretty interesting tools actually.” If your child happens to be interested in tools this might nudge her into asking about the tools, and then remind her that she did some work with tools at the art studio. “What tools did he have? I used a sharp wire to cut clay in half today at the studio. I was working on my Egypt project.” Boom!
  1. Once they settle, then you can ask more specific questions. Once they have relaxed a bit at home with a snack or have had some play time and you’ve had a moment to connect, then you can ask more specific questions about their day. 

Also if you ask about preferred times of day/activities, you are more likely to get the ball rolling and get them chatting. In other words, if your child isn’t loving math, don’t ask how math class was if your goal is to hear information about their day. Try asking about the recess or reading time or any other favorite time of day that you know your child enjoys.

A few examples of great alternatives to “How was your day?”

Asking specific questions (when your child is ready to answer) can help get them warmed up and more interested in responding. Focus on activities you know they enjoy to get the ball rolling. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What did you play at recess today?
  • What was your favorite work time activity today?
  • Did you like your lunch today? Who’d you sit next to?
  • Follow up on a previous conversation. How’s that new classmate you told me about doing? Do you think they are getting to know any of the students in the class?
  • What did Miss Kim read during group time today? 
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Some additional strategies and ideas to consider:

If the above strategies aren’t working or you’ve tried them and your child is still clamming up, here are a few things you might want to explore. 

  1. Is something else going on? It is possible that your child is having a hard time with something at school, academically, socially/emotionally, or otherwise and they aren’t sure if, or how, to talk to you about it. They may not have even pinpointed it themselves yet. If you think this might be it, and you think you know what the problem is, you can name it with lots of what I call, guessing language

Instead of a pointed question like, “I think you are having a hard time with your friend Maisy and that’s why you aren’t talking to me about what’s going on at school.” You would say, “Hmmm…. You seem a little down and quiet. I was wondering if things with Maisy have felt hard. Sometimes friends have bumps and hard times; that’s pretty normal stuff. I’m here if you want to tell me about anything that might be happening.” Then leave some time and space, even after they’ve denied it, stay present but quiet for a bit. 

Words like “might,” “wondering,” “perhaps,” and “seem” allow your child an out. They can choose to share or they can choose to go the other way. It leaves room to walk it all back, for both of you.

  1. It might be that your child senses your anxiety. Perhaps you are wondering about the degree to which your child’s reading delay, for example,  is impacting their overall school experience, their feelings about school, and their sense of who they are at school. Your questions carry within them a need for your own reassurance and your child has picked up on that feeling and therefore wants to avoid your questions. Check in with yourself and find another way to get the information you need, perhaps a chat with your child’s teacher.

Children are smart and like us all they often feel things before they know things. They often need connection and an overall feeling of safety to share about their day, or at the minimum, they just need to settle into the transition from school to home with a snack. Allow for that, give them some room.

They also need practice with the process of recalling and sharing. If you have concerns regarding your child’s ability to process, recall, or communicate about their day, chat with your child’s teacher to hear their thoughts and see if they see anything similar. 

Remember, most Mondays when you bump into a friend or colleague and they ask how your weekend was, it takes you a bit to even remember what you did, let alone trying to consider what this person might find interesting, how to explain it, etc. And we’ve had many more years of practice. So, don’t take it personally and try not to worry. Your child will open up and share some daily tidbits when they are ready! 

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