“How was your day?” Encouraging after-school chat
If I had a pound for every time I asked my children how their day was, and they replied, “Fine”, I’d be a very rich woman! It got me thinking about better ways to get kids to open up.
Some children love talking about school. With others, encouraging them to share even a few details can feel like fighting a losing battle, especially if things are going wrong at school, such as bullying, friendship fall-outs or exam stress.
If your child is on the quieter side or particularly private, there are still ways to ask questions that will open up a conversation rather than shutting them down in an instant.
I’ve noticed that, often, when parents hear “fine,” they react in one of two ways. Some parents will go on to ask lots more questions, in an effort to get the conversation going. However, studies have shown that asking too many questions can feel invasive, especially to teenagers, causing them to clam up and withdraw – the very opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Other parents, tired of hearing the usual response, may stop asking altogether. However, research has shown that children who share limited communication with their parents when growing up report more mental and behavioural health difficulties.
So, it’s a fine line between asking and demanding. It’s important to consider your tone of voice, body language and intentions. The best way is to relax and ask genuinely interested open-ended questions; you have two ears and one mouth for a reason – to listen more than you speak! Often children prefer it if you are doing something else at the same time, such as driving, walking the dog or peeling the potatoes.
Active and enthusiastic parental involvement can positively influence your child’s engagement at school, their academic success and help them to achieve long-term educational goals. Simple and positive communication, every day, strengthens your child’s self-esteem and confidence and develops long-term happy childhood memories.
Communication at different ages
With young children, school day conversations usually revolve around school subjects, new friendships or concrete experiences. For example, a young child might share with you:
“I played on the slide at lunch time today with Emily!”
Start by asking an open-ended question that opens up and expands the conversation rather than closing the conversation down. Steer away from a response that requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer:
‘Oh, that sounds fun, what did you play after that?’
At around 7-9 years old, friendships become increasingly important to your child. They may be more interested in talking about their friendships than about their schoolwork, so show an interest by asking about their friends, such as:
“Tell me about Joe. What does he like to play at breaktime?”
Children between 9-11 might begin to see your questions as nosy, which can lead to less information sharing. So, change your questioning style to be less intensive. Instead, approach questions by asking about your child’s friends to kick start a conversation:
“What do your friends think about the new P.E teacher?”
Talking with teens
Children are turning into young adults during teenage years and, as such, you have to change your style of relating to them to remain connected but not intrusive. Find simple things you can do together – walking the dog, eating together regularly, watching sport or pursuing an activity such as baking or arts and crafts, so conversations naturally flow from there. Stay involved in your children’s lives and show interest, but steer clear from seeming overtly inquisitive. Create opportunities for conversations and don’t get caught up in only nagging!
Most importantly, maintain the long-term, bigger picture of your relationship in mind and keep conversations positive. Focus on asking your child about their opinions and thoughts, instead of just telling them yours, and try getting them involved in some family decision making.
Remember, it’s normal for your teenager to seek out more privacy and share less information with you. They are growing up and transitioning into a young adult. So be flexible and respect your teens privacy when they need it.
If you find yourself exasperated, frustrated and completely at a loss to get your kids chatting, here are a few starters:
- What was the favourite part of your day?
- What made you laugh today?
- Who were you kind to today?
- What new fact did you learn today?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
- What rule was the hardest to follow today?
- What games did you play at break time today?
- Was there anything that happened today that made you feel bad?
- What did you do in school today that you really enjoyed?
- Who inspired you today?
As you’d expect, children often feel quite tired at the end of the school day. If they aren’t up to talking straight away, hold back on your questions until they have had time to relax and unwind. Once refuelled, they may be up for sharing.
Parental engagement apps are a great way of keeping on top of what’s going on in your child’s school day. By keeping in touch with the latest school news, you’ll be better placed to have a conversation about lessons, homework, trips and activities.
So, if your school uses an online engagement platform to stay in touch with parents, it’s super important to make the most of it.
Regardless of your child’s age, keep in mind that it’s the quality of frequent but small positive conversations that you have over time that will make the biggest difference – so keep trying and don’t give up!