How To Encourage Your Child to Talk About Their School Day

It is back to school this week and as parents we will be eager to hear all about the first day. Who is the new teacher? Do they have friends in the same class? How are they feeling? Did they eat their lunch? We have so many questions we want to ask them and can’t help but bombard them in the playground. We might feel dejected when our questions are met with no response or a one word answer.

Parent: “What did you do at school today darling?”
Child: “Nothing” or “I dunno” or “I can’t remember”!

Parent: “Well…how was your first day?”
Child: “Boring” or “good” or “fine”!

So why won’t my child talk about school?

Questions can feel like an interrogation. After spending 6 hours at school, some kids just don’t want to talk about it! Much like a parent getting home from work and not wanting to talk about work.
Tired and emotional after that first day back, many kids just need time to transition from school to home. Getting away from the noise and bustle in the playground may be all that is needed. As tempting at it is to bombard them in the playground, you might find you learn more if you wait a while.

How can I encourage my child to give more information about their day?

  • Welcome them first with a warm smile and a hug. Simple but effective.
  • Have some afternoon tea ready or suggest they check their lunchbox – they may not have eaten anything at recess or lunch especially if feeling anxious. A hungry child will not want to communicate about anything until the tummy stops rumbling!
  • Judge their mood – do they want to hang around and play with friends or do they seem overwhelmed and ready to leave?
  • Model the type of open responses you are looking for by first telling them about your day “Guess what I did today…. I finally managed to…. I was so happy today when…”
  • Allow for quiet moments on the way home. By keeping quiet and calm you might find they initiate a conversation about school having had some time to process the day.

How to ask questions for a greater chance of a response

Getting children to talk about school requires you to think about how you frame your questions. Be specific. Broad, open ended questions such as “How was it?” almost always attract a short answer. Give some thought to what you really want to know. Really listening to the response will also give you an insight into how your child really feels about certain aspects of school too. Watch how the responses are conveyed. Are they happy, confident, anxious or concerned about certain issues? Here are 12 alternatives to “how was your day?”

  • What was the best part of your day? (and worst)
  • Who did you sit with at lunch today?
  • What did your teacher tell you about himself/herself?
  • Tell me something funny that happened.
  • Did you try something new today?
  • What was the most challenging part of your day?
  • What did you play at recess?
  • Tell me one new thing you learned today that you didn’t know before?
  • Do you have a job in the classroom?
  • Are there any new rules this year?
  • Where did your friends go on holiday?
  • What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?

If this works and your child starts to open up about their day, resist the urge to jump into the dialogue too soon. They might stop talking! Non verbals and social cues will be of use here. Nodding and encouraging noises along with eye contact where possible will show your child that you are interested and listening.

It can be tempting also to offer advice or solutions too quickly if they express a concern. Sometimes they might just need someone to listen and will arrive at their own solution. If you feel the need to speak during the exchange then paraphrasing is a useful technique to show them that you have really understood and helps them to reflect on the issue, e.g. “so you were annoyed that he wouldn’t stop when you told him to but it sounds like you managed to work it out between you in the end.”

Some children shut down when they are faced with too many questions. Comments are often better received. It can be useful to think in terms of a ratio of questions to comments. For every 1 question you ask perhaps try to follow up with 3 encouraging comments before throwing out the next question.

Good luck for the first week back!