I have a child that seemingly never shuts up, so you’d think getting him to discuss what he did at school would be easy right? Wrong!
Generally the conversation goes something like this…
Me: “How was your day today?”
Mr 5: “Good”
Me: “What did you do today?”
Mr 5: “I can’t remember”
Me: “What do you mean you can’t remember?! You literally JUST left.”
Mr 5: “I dunno”
Yep… super smooth!
While “good”, “I don’t remember” and “I dunno” are better than a grunt, they’re not exactly what I had in mind for end of the day conversation. So, in the hope of getting more than a three word answer I’ve been trying out some techniques to get him talking, while at the same time teaching him a bit about the art of conversation.
Not diving in
When I pick my son up from school at the end of the day I’ve generally spent the best part of 6 hours not talking to anyone. Sure, I’ve had countless conversations with a 2-year-old, but let’s face it, two year olds, and home life in general, can be rather repetitive. On the other hand, my older son has been hanging out in this place I know nothing about, doing who knows what, and I want all the info… NOW.
It’s super tempting to dive in and start with 20 questions about his day, who he played with and what he did, but I’ve discovered that he actually needs some down time from being asked questions. School involves a lot of answering questions and by the end of the day he’s done.
So I’ve tried to sit back and give him some space on the drive home. I let him start a conversation if he wants to or I tell him a bit about my day. Sometimes we just have some quiet time. It’s hard but I’m getting better at not diving in, and it means that when I do ask a question after he’s had a chance to unwind, he’s more responsive.
As well as the obvious benefit of helping to get more information out of him, it also has the added bonus of giving me the chance to later sit with him and have a proper conversation, outside of the car. When we talk face to face he learns the importance of eye contact and that it’s not polite to do something else while you’re holding a conversation with someone.
I’ve found that the best way to get the ball rolling on conversation at the end of the day is to share about my day too. Mr 5 is always quite interested to hear what I’ve done while he’s not been with me. When I start sharing about my day and what I did at specific times he tends to open up about his day too.
“What did you do today” is a huge question for most people, especially a child, and I’ve found it elicits one of three answers: I don’t know, nothing or I can’t remember.
I’ve been having much more successful in getting information if I’m super specific about my questions. Instead of what did you do today? I ask him what he ate first at lunch, who he sat next to, what they read about at reading time, if anyone got in trouble at class or whether any of his friends were away from school today.
Open ended questions
I’ve learnt from experience that if a question can be answered with a yes or no then it will be. I’ve been trying to use open ended questions that require more that a single word answer to get the conversation started and I’ve certainly found it helps. He’s also learning how to talk with others and expand on a conversation. (See below for some examples that work for me.)
For several years we’ve always done something called high/low at the dinner table each night. Basically we go around the table and share a high and a low from our day. We model to the kids how it works first and over time they’ve learnt to do it themselves. Basically each person shares a good thing (high) and a bad thing (low) from their day. It doesn’t have to be the “best” or “worst” thing from the day, just something that was good and something that was not so great.
Not only does it help us gain an insight into their day but it also gives us a chance to celebrate with them and chat through any worries they may have. We’re also teaching them how to initiate a simple conversation with others beyond “how was your day/week?”. Instead of asking a friend what they did on holidays they can now ask what was the best bit of their holidays or what was something good that happened on the weekend.
While we still have days where holding a conversation about his day is painfully difficult, I’ve certainly found that these strategies have helped. If you’re looking for conversation starters for your kids, these are some of my favourites.
- What was your favourite part of the day today?
- Who did you sit with a morning tea?
- How was your teacher today?
- Was anyone at school sad today? Why?
- What worksheets did you do today?
- What story did you do today?
- Did anything at school upset you today?
- What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
- Did anyone leave early today? Who/Why?
- Did anyone get a reward star/certificate today? Who/what for?
- What happened in assembly/music/library/sport today?
Do you struggle to get your kids to talk about their day? Have you tried any techniques that have worked?
More ways to engage the kids:
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Same-Sex Marriage & Gay Parents
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Things
- How To Talk To Your Kids About a Sick Loved One