Whenever I pick my my kids up from school, I generally ask about their day. They are not usually the most elaborate communicators!
However, it’s important to engage with our children at any age, and to keep the lines of communication open.
I don’t ask my son questions to be nosy (well, maybe I do a little); I ask because I genuinely want to know how his day went. I want him to feel comfortable talking to me about life outside of home.
As parents, we can provide a safe space for our kids to talk to us about anything - good or bad - if we initiate conversations and let our children know that we are listening.
Too many children are being ignored and neglected while parents saturate themselves with social media and technological devices. (I’m guilty of this myself and it’s not something I am proud of.)
Our children deserve our attention and we have the ability to give it to them through meaningful conversations.
One of the best times of day to have important conversations is when our children get home from school. This interactive period is often free from distractions like meal time, homework time or play time.
When it comes to starting a conversation with our kids after school, we should ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
This will push our children to open up and really feel like they are being heard. They should learn early on that their voices matter and that people - especially their parents - care about what they have to say.
I also recommend asking follow up questions if your child’s answers are brief.
This reiterates the message that their feelings matter and that what they are experiencing is of interest to us.
There may be days when they don’t feel like talking, or aren’t in the mood to share. On those days, we should still ask questions so they know that we are happy to talk to them on their bad days too; that we won’t hold their emotions against them.
We don’t want to force our children to give us answers, as this can create resentment down the road. Instead, we should be calm, loving and inviting when we ask our children about their day.
We should let them know that we are asking because we love them and care about the things they are learning and going through. They will hear us when we say this, even if we can’t tell.
Children are like sponges with ears, so we should give them reassurance that will carry over into their better days. Knowing that we are open to talking even when they are being grumpy will make them feel important and hopefully clear the way for future conversations.
The next time you pick your child up from school, or when they walk in the door, try asking these five questions and see if it sparks more openness in your kids. They will appreciate it more than you know and it will make them better communicators as adults.
Related: Get your kids to read more
I wrote an article on some of the unique ways I've found as a parent to get my kids to read more. Check it out HERE.
What interesting things happened today?
You might not even have to ask your child this question because many times when something happens at school that is funny or exciting, your child will willingly share with you.
My children definitely want me to know about the things that catch their attention throughout the day.
If a friend wore a certain item of clothing that was particularly fabulous, I’ll hear about it. If a teacher does something funny, my kids will let me know. I don’t usually have to ask this question, but it’s a great one for kids who love talking about life’s happenings during the school day.
In the event your children don’t open up without prodding, this question gives them the opportunity to relive the moments that made their day so enjoyable. It’s small reminders of the good times that can often perk up our children’s moods and thus make our day better as well.
What did you learn in class today?
This question is a good one to ask because it not only opens up a dialogue between you and your child, it also gives you a glimpse into what your child is learning at school.
As a parent, I often wonder how much my kids are digesting and what, exactly, goes on behind their classroom doors.
My son sometimes answers with, “I don’t remember,” which may or may not be true, so I will generally follow up by asking, “Did you learn any new words? Did you work on any special projects?”
Sometimes these follow up questions ignite something in our children and then they remember what they learned and are eager to share.
When we get home after school pick up, I go through my son’s binder and ask about any notes or projects that I find. Sometimes this creates an avenue for a new discussion, which ends up connecting us through a conversation about what he learned that day.
Who did you sit with at lunch today?
What I have found when I ask my son, “How was your day?” is that the first two things he tells me are whether or not he went on the playground and what he ate for lunch.
On the days he buys lunch at school, I love knowing what he ate and drank. (He’s all about the chocolate milk.) But I think the more important question is, “Who did you sit with at lunch?”
My goal in asking this question is to find out if he is, in fact, sitting with friends, if he is being treated with kindness and being kind to others, and if he has any negative experiences at lunchtime.
There is such a problem with bullying in our society that I really want to make sure my kids are not being bullied or bullying others.
I feel like lunchtime is when many children who are bullied eat alone, or become victims of bullying. I want my children to be honest about their experience at the lunch table, so I try to pry gently with this question.
What was your favorite part about today?
Most likely, my son’s answer will be “lunch” or “recess.” And you know what? If that’s his favorite part of the day, so be it.
The important thing is that he opens up and feels comfortable enough to share. I don’t recommend responding with shock or making fun of your child’s answer. This invalidates their feelings and sends the message that what brings them joy is silly or strange.
A better response would be, “Oh yeah? Tell me more about it.” This demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in learning more and gets your child excited about sharing. Perhaps the reason they like lunch or recess the best is because they are very social and enjoy spending time with others.
Some kids might like certain subjects or classes best and others might enjoy listening to their teachers speak. This question will help you learn more about your child, their interests and the things that make them happy.
What is your homework today?
I would guess that the most common question asked by parents when it comes to homework is, “Do you have homework?” But this question doesn’t invite a discussion because the answer is going to simply be “yes” or “no.”
Instead, ask “What is your homework today?” so that your child has to give a specific answer.
They might still be brief in their response but you can nudge them for more information as needed. If they say, “A bunch of worksheets,” respond with, “Worksheets about what?” Our children will not instinctively go into detail, but will appreciate the fact that we want to know more.
We can also ask things like, “How can I help you with your homework?” so that our kids know we want to be supportive and involved, but still let them be in charge of getting the work done.
Children aren’t naturally communicative. They need to be taught how to communicate. As parents, we can teach them by starting discussions around school that show our children we want to be involved in their lives. (They actually do want us to be, contrary to what their attitudes might imply.)
Once they reach the teenage years, our children might not be as willing to open up. But if we can engage with them starting at a young age, they may be more inclined to be transparent, since they know we won’t judge them or try to silence their voices.
Be your children’s safe space. Ask questions, regardless of whether or not they give an answer. You never know how much it means to them that you actually care about what happens in their lives.