Child holding stack of books with mortar board chalk drawing on

Labor Day has just passed, meaning that by now most kids have returned to school. Do you dread the inevitable “fine” or some other one word response when you ask your kids, “how was school today?” Do you wish that they would just tell you about their day? I mean really, how hard can it be to talk. Turns out, it’s pretty hard. And it might just be that we are asking the wrong questions.

Think about the question “how was school today?” It is about as difficult to answer as “how was work today?” It is an invitation to a one word response not a conversation.

For younger children, the difficulty is that a response requires a summary of the day. Children do not process information like adults do. They are concrete thinkers, not yet having developed abstract thoughts. So taking development into account, it is difficult for children to summarize their day.

As far as older children, they are beginning to separate from their parents and their peers play a more important role in their lives. So again taking development into account, teens often do not want to have a conversation with their parents.

But do not worry, all hope is not lost. Here are some alternative strategies to get your kids, and teens too, talking.

1. Greet your child when they return home. Say “I’m happy you’re home” or “it’s good to see you.” Immediately starting with a question can lead to your child to feel bombarded, overwhelmed, and on the spot to give a response when they have not had a chance to process their day.

2. Give your child a moment of peace. Let your child have a snack or put their feet up for a bit before asking them about their day. If they can’t wait to tell you something, they’ll tell you. Otherwise, think about how you feel after a long day. Often you just need a breather before engaging in a conversation.

3. Ask specific questions. Ask what your child did fun today, what was their favorite part, what did they not like. Ask about that art project you know they are working on or about what book their teacher read. Make sure the questions are not just focused on academics.

4. Avoid face-to-face situations. Kids and teens typically do not interact well in face-to-face discussions, feeling as if they are being interrogated. Talking while doing something (driving, cooking dinner, etc.) can lead to more in-depth and honest conversation.

5. Listen. I know, this sounds like a no-brainer but if you really observe, you most likely will find you do more of the talking. Asking open-ended questions and not making assumptions will allow you a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of your child and they might just surprise you. You might think your teen is disappointed in that B on their math test, and you may be disappointed, yet they might feel proud of how hard they studied and of achieving such a grade on the most difficult material yet.

6. Do not be a fixer. You want your child to develop problem-solving skills and learn to handle their own difficulties. So if an issue arises, do not immediately jump in trying to make it better. Often this can backfire and minimize your child’s feelings. Take the example of responding to teasing by telling your child that the other kids are only jealous. Ask your child how they might deal with the situation, how they feel, and what help you can provide.

You can share any other thoughts or ideas in the comments section below. And I wish you and your kiddos a great school year! Want more insight into talking with your child? Contact me here.