“How was your day?”, is a common question we ask our children. Unfortunately, a common response is “nothing” or even a grunt.
Do you find your child offers little information when asked about what they got up to at school? Well, you are not alone. Many parents have commented to me that they struggle eliciting just the basic information from their child. Why do our children often choose to withhold such insights when we are genuinely interested?
I feel it is not that our children wish not to disclose life experiences, it is how and when we ask.
An example: Sam is in Year 1. He is a happy, bright little boy with firm friendships. At school, Sam is conscientious and eager to please. As Sam hops into the car at pick up, mum says: “Hi Sam, how was your day?”. Sam replies: “Good”. “What did you do?”. “Nothing”.
Does this sound familiar?
Why does Sam answer like this? We must first time our questions for when our child is ready to answer. There are key moments when it is best to ask children about their day. Primarily, this is when they have their primary needs met, for example, when they are not hungry or tired. Furthermore, when the parent and child are engaged together doing something like playing a game or having dinner, is an opportune time to engage in conversation. For boys, in particular, this technique can work well.
The questions you ask are the key.
To ask the best questions you have to have an understanding of your child’s life and routines. I would strongly recommend reading the teachers’ Term letters, so you know what your child is currently learning at school. Know the names of teachers, friends and have an idea of their daily program.
At St Luke’s, be aware that recess is at 10.40 am and they have to eat and then play. Understand that at lunchtime they regularly play tip, soccer, handball or whatever may be in vogue. Do they play in the Junior Centre, on the patch, oval or basketball court? This is the basic information you can leverage off.
Try to ask open ended questions to keep a conversation going. If you ask a yes/no question, you’ll probably get a yes/no answer.
Often children are not specific, so you have to ask for specific information, and this is where knowing your child’s basic daily routine helps. Starting with factual questions is a great way to ease into conversation, furthermore avoiding emotion-packed words (eg. happy, sad, mean etc) can help conversation go longer.
Last, asking positive questions gives your child a chance to express concerns whereas negative questions tend to stop a conversation (Cunnigham, n.d.).
Personally, I find the best time to ask my children about their day is about 5 minutes into our evening meal around the table. I also engage them about their day after dinner when we are playing a game (at the moment Uno is our preferred game).
Andrew Thompson, Assistant Head of the Junior School
Cunnigham, B. n.d. How to say it: Better questions to ask your child at school. Retrieved, 9 May from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/understanding-childs-challenges/talking-with-your-child/how-to-say-it-questions-to-ask-your-child-about-school