When my kids started preschool, I had visions of picking them up from school and them gushing to tell me about all the exciting things they did during their time away from me. Then reality set in and the conversations went something like this:
Me: How was school?
My child: Fine
Me: What did you do?
My child: I don’t remember.
This is despite the fact that normally my kids talked so much that we would sometimes play the Quiet Game, which was just an unsuccessful attempt on my part to gain a little peace and quiet.
Now that the school year is underway, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips that can help your child start chatting about their day.
Give them time. Some kids may walk out the school and be jabbering about their day before you even get in the car. Other kids are just like adults you may know. They may need time to decompress and process their day. If all you get is fine when you first ask how their day was, resist the urge to press for more and give your child time to reset before you ask for more details.
Fuel them with food. More than likely you are picking your child up from school or daycare at lunch time, snack time or maybe even dinner time. Your child’s lack of response to “how was school today?” might genuinely be due to them not having the energy to think back and remember what happened during their day. Give your child a healthy snack or meal before engaging them in a conversation about their day.
Switch up your timing. We are often tempted to ask our child right after pick up how their day was. However, as I mentioned above, some kids need time to process and decompress. Wait and ask your child about their day at dinner time or when you are in the car later running errands or on your way to practice. In my family, we shared our highs and lows from our days during dinner. Each person had the opportunity to share something good that happened and something that was maybe not so great too. I found that my kids would often tell me more about their day by doing this than when I would ask about it right after school.
Use play as a conduit for conversation. Engage your child in an activity they enjoy, whether it is doing a puzzle or building with Legos or playing catch or doing an art project. You can just chat about their day while you play together or even just play side-by-side.
Use what you know to spark conversation. Take the information you already know about your child’s class and use it to spark conversation. Instead of asking “how was your day”, you could ask a more specific question about a part of your child’s classroom, schedule, teacher or about kids in their class. I would often ask my kids who they sat by during lunch or what book their teacher read during circle time or what was in the sensory table.
Ask open ended questions. How was school is a pretty broad question that can be difficult for children to answer. Instead, try asking something more specific but is still open ended. What was something funny that happened today at school? Did you try anything new today? What was your high and low from school today?
Recognize and honor your child’s emotions about school. There will come a day when your child comes home upset about something that happened at school. Whether that something is a big deal or seems superficial to us, it is important to honor your child’s feelings and experience. Label your child’s emotions and offer empathy for what they have experienced. Once you have done this you can spend time problem-solving with your child to help them handle similar situations in the future.
Following these strategies now when your child is young is a great way to establish an ongoing, open relationship with your child around their school experience. Be curious and listen carefully so your child knows you value hearing about their day. So, how was your day?