It's so exciting when your child heads off to school each year. Then, after they leave, it can feel kind of strange not to know what your precious one is doing all day long without you. So during the day, you think up lots of questions to ask your kids. The moment of truth comes when you ask them what they did in school today, and they reply…"Nothing."
We’ve all been there. Believe it or not, it is possible to get your child talking. Here are some simple (and kind of sneaky) strategies from an experienced mom and teacher to get the kids to share what they did at school:
1. Stock up on picture books
Teachers and librarians have known this secret forever. There are picture books out there that address any topic you can think up and for kids at any age. Many kids find it easier to talk about things happening in a book before sharing what happens to them.
As you read the book, make connections with your child. Ask questions like, has this ever happened to you? Or, did this happen to anyone at school today? Here are some great lists of books that can help you develop questions to ask children:
- 50 Must-Have Picture Books to Teach Social Emotional Skills
- 14 Books to Help Kids Get Ready for the New School Year
- 5 Fabulous Picture Books About School
2. Focus on open-ended questions for kids
When you ask children yes or no questions, you'll get one-word answers. Instead, try asking questions that require your child to talk about feelings and thoughts. A sneaky secret about these questions is that you have to give your kids enough time to think about their answer. There's nothing wrong with a bit of silence to show them their answer is worth waiting for.
Here are a few tried-and-true open-ended questions to ask your children:
- When were you bored today?
- How did you help someone in your class today?
- What word did your teacher say the most today?
- If I called your teacher today, what would she tell me about you?
- What do you hope will happen at school tomorrow? ¿Por qué?
3. Get to know what happens at school
Don't assume your child's day is the same as what your school day was like when you were younger. Pay attention during Open House, read the classroom and school newsletters carefully, and consider volunteering at school. The more you know about your child's day, the more specific your questions will be. "What song did they play during brain break?" is a lot more detailed than, "How was your day?" These kinds of details trigger memories of moments at school that your kids probably wanted to share with you, but forgot.
4. Invite your child to cook dinner with you
Sometimes, kids need time to decompress and process their day before they share its details with you. So, rather than bombarding them with your well-meaning questions the moment they get in the car after school, wait a few hours. Invite them to cook dinner with you, and use that quality time to talk about the day.
No matter how old your child is, there's always something to help with in the kitchen. As you chop and your child peels, ask about what kinds of foods they saw during lunch. Did most kids buy their lunch or bring their lunch? Did they see anyone who brought interesting food for lunch?
5. Try an “I share, you share” technique
This is a great way to model talking about your day. In this strategy, you’ll tell something about your day and then your child will tell something. Make this tougher by having your child match something similar to what you shared. For example: “Today I went for a run all the way up our hill and into town. It was exhausting, but I felt great after. How did you exercise your body at school?”
6. Listen for “jump-in” moments
If you're too busy thinking of questions to ask children, you might miss the opportunity to hear what your child is sharing. Your child is learning to be quiet throughout their day because there are so many children and only one teacher. Letting your child know your ear is ready to listen can be such a relief for your child. As you listen, find ways to jump in to ask your child to elaborate on moments that seem important or emotionally charged.
Remember that as much as you want to learn about your child's day, your child needs time to process what happened as well. Some kids need to process by talking and some by thinking. Getting to know your child's processing style is critical to helping them understand what they need. The more you both practice the give and take conversation requires, the easier it will get!
Kimberley Moran is the mom of two children and the step-mom to two young adults. She is a senior digital editor at WeAreTeachers.com where she helps teachers improve the lives of kids everywhere. She was a teacher for 15 years, working to make sure children were both seen and heard. She wrote the book, Hacking Parenthood: Ten Mantras You Can Use Daily to Reduce the Stress of Parenting, to help all parents simplify their lives and love raising children. She lives in Maine with her family.