Talking with Kids About School: 11 Helpful Strategies
We all want to ask our kids about their day. Many times we simply get a response, “It was good.” Or “Yeah, I learned some math and reading.” Below you will find some strategies to try to get more from your conversation with your children about his or her day. The strategies come from the website http://www.pbs.org/parents/. Try a few to see if you get more from your children about their day. They have been working for me with my two girls for several years.
1. Greet your child with an enthusiastic hello. Try saying: "great to see you!" or "I missed you!" or simply, "I hope you had a good day," instead of "How was school?" These statements communicate what you really feel without instantly putting your child on the spot with a question. As a result, your child is more likely to speak about her day.
2. Allow your child not to talk right after school. Many kids don’t want to talk the minute they walk in the door. They want to have a snack, call a friend, or just chill out. (Think about how you feel when you walk in after a long day at work. Wouldn’t you rather put your feet up and talk later?)
3. Learn about your child’s life at school. The more details you know about your child’s school experience, the more valuable your questions will be. If you know the teacher reads a story every day, ask "What story did Mrs. Younger read today?" If you know the teacher’s newsletter comes home on Wednesday, set up a ritual to read it together at dinner. If you visit your child’s classroom, make note of new things you might want to discuss with your child later.
4. Say what’s on your mind. If what you really need to know is "How did you do on the math test?" just ask. If you fish around, your child will resent it more. But keep direct questions about tests to a minimum or, that’s all kids will think you care about.
5. Avoid face-to-face interrogations. You might do better in situations where you’re not face-to-face like the car, when your child takes a bath, or when you are cooking. In this way, your child won’t feel put on the spot.
6. Let the talk emerge naturally. Discuss the day while you cook dinner, read together, or check homework. But try not to use dinner as a time to talk about problems like homework or tests. Everybody needs a break!
7. Listen before you talk. Let your child lead you into conversations on her own. Sometimes your child will drop hints without your asking, like "We planted seeds today!" or "Where’s the atlas? I need to find Antarctica." These are perfect openings to talk together about school.
8. Try communicating without words. The best way to make contact with your child isn’t necessarily through talking. "We want our children to talk with us — because talking is our way of communicating. But talk is not how all kids express themselves: play is. If we insist they talk our way, we may not get much information, but if we play on their terms, we might. Many children would prefer to reconnect with a hug, by playing a game, or rough housing. Some are more physical than verbal, so you might ask them to give you thumbs up or thumbs down about school, instead of describing it."
9. Talk about funny things that happened to you. One of the best ways to stimulate conversation is to talk about funny stuff kids can relate to. A great way to start conversation is to describe an interesting and funny event from your day. Kids will then respond and talk about interesting things that happened to them. Talk about the skunk you passed on the way to work. Talk about the toilet paper that got stuck to your shoe. Talk about the booger you saw hanging from your boss’ nose. Your kids will laugh and probably start talking to you.
10. Don’t jump in to fix your child’s problem immediately. If your child brings up a problem like "I hate my teacher!" take it in stride. First, find out what else your child has to say and what he wants to do about it. You might encourage your child to figure out solutions by asking, "What do you think you want to do about this?" and "Is there something you’d like me to do?" Follow up later with "How did your new strategies work?" or "You haven’t mentioned math class lately, does that mean it’s going better?" If the problem is serious, discuss it with the school.
11. Help children develop their own solutions. Don’t feel you need to supply the right answer yourself. Instead, share ideas about possible solutions that will help your child feel better. This is a way to help your child see you as an ally who will support him when problems come up. By helping your child figure it out for himself, you are also giving him a whole set of tools for solving the problems independently as he or she gets older.
Helpful Questions to Ask
Whatever your child’s age, a specific question, or even a specific statement, may prompt more of a response than the more general "How was school today?" If you listen to your child’s answer, and (if the opening is there) ask another question, you’ll be on your way to a meaningful conversation.
Ask kids about what interests them:
"What did you do that was fun today?"
"Did anything funny happen?"
"What did you like best today?"
"Did you read any new books in library?"
"What are you the most proud of?”
“What did you play at recess today?”
Ask about specific people and events in your child’s life:
"Did you play any games during number corner?"
"What did Mrs. _________ talk about in circle time?"
"Who’d you sit next to on the bus?"
"Did ________ call on you today?"
"How are you and Isabella or _________doing?"
“Who did you play with at recess today?”
Ask kids about what bugs them. Everybody likes to complain, so if your child is in a bad mood, ask what’s wrong. You might find that within a few minutes, your child is telling you what she likes. You might ask:
"Anybody make you upset or really happy today?"
"Was there anything really hard for you?"
Make comments about schoolwork. You can look over your child’s work or the teacher’s weekly class note, and ask questions about what they show you.
“Wow, that is a great picture, tell me about it,”
Age Specific Ideas
Preschool, Kindergarten & First Grade
Younger children often bubble up with their own comments about the school day but skip lots of information parents find important. Some don’t like the question "how was school?" primarily because they think their parents know what’s in their head. When they are young sometimes they can’t remember the details and sometime they feel like they can’t answer it the way their parents want so they don’t say anything. Developmentally, younger children haven’t completely realized that their lives are separate from their parents.
To encourage communication, you might ask "what did you build in the block center?" or "what songs did you sing in music today?" Comment on their work, with statements like “you’re studying words with the letter B. Grandma’s name Barbara starts with B. What other words start with B?”
Keep in mind, however, that while some young children are chatterboxes, others are not. "For many young children, talking is not their main way of communicating. So don’t be upset if you don’t get an elaborate answer. Instead, get out the stuffed animals, dolls, or action figures and observe what your child does through play. Your child might play the part of a scolding teacher, or want you to play the part of a naughty child. Your child might give you an art class. You never know.
Second & Third Grade
Kids this age may start sharing less. They know the school routine and may not want to discuss it with you. How they feel about their friends begins to overshadow school work, but they may not want to talk about social problems with parents or be able to verbalize them succinctly. If your child seems upset when she comes home, instead of prying with questions, you might say later "I notice you were grumpy when you walked in the door. Did something happen?" Compliments can start great conversations as well. You might say, "You’re really working hard on your handwriting. This story looks great."
Fourth & Fifth Grade
Older kids sometimes interpret your questions as demands. They may think you want a report on how well they are doing, or an update on their social lives which they would rather keep private. They may sometimes be afraid that you will interfere or try to fix situations they would rather deal with themselves. Your older child might think, "There’s way too much to tell you. And you’re just going to over-react, so I’m not going to bother."
Kids this age may talk more readily about their friends than about themselves. You might ask "what do your friends think about the new math teacher?" and learn a lot about what your child thinks. Try to avoid orders like "time for homework!" and instead ask "what’s your homework plan for the day? Should we make one together?"
Report cards come home in the elementary school this Friday. While you may want to discuss the report card with your child, try these strategies at another time the following week. I would appreciate your feedback about your conversations with your children and if they are more forthcoming. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .