As a parent, you’re naturally curious about your children’s lives–wanting to hear about the adventures, challenges, and stories that made up their school day while you were apart. But the exchange of “How was school today?” “Fine” is a common refrain in many parent-child dynamics. That’s why we’re here to help you break out of this conversational rut and connect with your child through some different approaches.
We’ll explore a variety of techniques to help you unearth the stories, experiences, and emotions that make up your child’s school day. From asking the right questions to creating a comfortable atmosphere for sharing, we’ll share some effective ways to bridge the gap between their world and yours.
Ask specific questions
When it comes to engaging your child in meaningful after-school conversations, one of the most effective techniques is asking specific questions. Questions that are super broad, like, “How was your day?” often lead to vague answers. Instead, ask about particular events or aspects of their school day.
One way to do this is to dive into your child’s specific interests, by asking questions related to their favorite subjects or activities. For instance, you might say, “I know you love art. What did you create in art class today?”
Another approach to specific questions is to draw your child’s attention to a particular point of time in the school day, like lunch (this can be a particularly helpful thing to ask about, as friendships and social dynamics are a big part of lunch time). You might ask, “Who did you sit with at lunch today and what did you talk about?”
If you know about specific events that happened that day, either from your child’s teacher or other communications from their school, make a point to ask about them. For instance, “I heard there was a science experiment in your class today. How did it go?”
By asking specific questions, you’re showing interest in your child’s day and their unique experiences, and this can lead to more detailed and engaging conversations.
Ask open-ended questions
After getting the ball rolling with some specific questions, another technique for crafting great conversations with your child is to ask open-ended questions. These types of questions encourage your child to share more than just a simple “yes” or “no” answer and delve deeper into their thoughts and feelings.
To ask open-ended questions effectively, steer clear of questions that can be answered with one word. Instead, choose questions that require a more elaborate response. Instead of asking, “How was school today?” try, “What was something good that happened at school today?”
Another thing that good open-ended questions can do is encourage storytelling. Instead of asking for a simple summary of your child’s day, ask for specific stories or examples. For example, you might say, “Tell me about something that made you laugh today,” or “Can you tell me about when you felt proud of yourself today?” These types of questions are your best friends when it comes to encouraging your child to open up and share their experiences.
The open-ended questioning doesn’t have to end with the first one you pose. After your child shares something, ask follow-up questions to explore their thoughts and feelings in more depth. If they mention a challenging situation, you can ask, “How did that make you feel, and what did you do about it?” or “What do you think could make it better next time?”
Don’t ask anything right away
When your kid hops in the car or gets home after school, it’s natural to be curious and want to hear about their day as soon as possible. But as counterintuitive as it might sound, sometimes resisting the urge to fire off questions right away can lead to a better conversation later.
Jumping into questions right away can be overwhelming, so try to give your child some space at first. They may need a moment to unwind and transition from the school environment to the home environment. Plus, there’s no “right” time for these conversations, and some kids open up more during a quiet dinner or bedtime chat rather than right after school.
If your child seems upset or unusually quiet, show empathy and acknowledge their emotions without prying. You can say something like, “I can see something’s bothering you. Whenever you’re ready to talk, I’m here for you.”
By giving them the space and time they need to decompress, you create a more welcoming environment for meaningful conversations with your kids. Remember, it’s not just about what you ask, but when and how you ask it.
Share about your own day
Sometimes, the best way to encourage your child to open up about their day is by sharing a bit about your own. When you share your experiences, you create a more open and comfortable atmosphere for them to reciprocate.
Start by sharing something relatable from your day. It could be a funny or interesting anecdote, a challenge you faced, or a personal accomplishment. Through your sharing you can show your child you understand what it’s like to have ups and downs during the day.
After sharing a bit, you can also ask your kid for their thoughts or opinion on what you’ve said. This invites connection in a way that keeps the pressure off your kid to share more than they’re ready to about their own day.
By sharing about your day, you demonstrate that you’re open and willing to connect on a personal level. This can foster a sense of trust, make your child more comfortable sharing their own stories and feelings, and promote better communication with your children in general.
Use an icebreaker
Engaging with your children after school can sometimes be made easier with the help of a fun icebreaker–they can make sharing about your day feel like an exciting game and get the conversation flowing.
One icebreaker idea is “rose, bud, thorn”. Ask your child to share their “rose,” which is the best part of their day, the “bud,” which represents something they’re looking forward to, and the “thorn,” a low point in their day or a challenge they faced. This structured approach makes it simpler for young kids to express themselves.
A similar icebreaker activity is “wow, pow, chow”. In this one, “wow” represents the best part of the day, “pow” is a low point, and “chow” is an opportunity to share the best thing you ate that day. Kids who love talking about food might enjoy this one extra!
You might also try a visual aid like the feelings wheel, which can help kids articulate how they felt during the day using words other than “good” or “bad”. This is great practice for being able to express and explain emotions in general.
Be an attentive listener
When it comes to asking your child about their day at school, being an attentive listener is just as important as asking the right questions. When your child starts sharing, put away distractions like your phone. Make eye contact, and show that you’re fully engaged in the conversation. This sends a clear signal that their thoughts and feelings are valuable to you.
It’s also important to let your child finish their thoughts and stories before responding, as interruptions can disrupt the flow of their narrative and make them feel unheard. Don’t interrupt with your own thoughts or solutions; simply be there to listen. And remember to be patient–sometimes it takes time for children to open up fully. If they seem hesitant, give them the space to share at their own pace, and avoid pushing for details they might not be ready to discuss.
Another way you can be an active listener is to validate your child’s feelings. If your child shares something that made them happy, sad, or frustrated, acknowledge their emotions. You can say something like, “I can see why that made you so happy,” or “It sounds like you had a tough time with that, and I’m here to listen.”
Being an attentive listener creates a safe and supportive environment where your child feels heard, valued, and comfortable in the parent-child interaction. It not only fosters a strong bond, but also encourages further open communication.
Do your best and get support if needed
In your quest to engage with your children after school, remember that every effort counts. Your genuine interest, patience, and commitment to creating a space for them to share are invaluable. However, if your child seems upset about something but is still reluctant to open up, consider reaching out to their teacher or school counselor and sharing your concern. They may be able to offer insights into your child’s school life and help address any issues.
Whether it’s through open conversations at home or reaching out to their educators, the most important thing is ensuring your child feels safe, heard, and supported throughout their school journey. Your dedication to their well-being is what truly matters, and that’s something your child will appreciate and remember for years to come