Ever had this in-depth conversation? Mom: “How was your day?” Child: “Fine.”
If you have kids, you’ve probably been frustrated with these one-word answers when asking your child how their day went and what they did to pass the time at day care, school or camp. You want to make sure that everything is going okay, but drawing more out of them can seem like an impossible task. What’s a parent to do?
We talked with two parenting experts for advice on getting kids to open up: Charles Fay, Ph.D., a specialist in child, adolescent and family psychotherapy and president of the Love and Logic Institute, and Lynn Gibson, is child care expert, president of the Florida Family Child Care Home Association and owner of a family child care home for more than 30 years. Here are their suggestions for encouraging your kids to talk more about their day.
Need more help starting the conversation? Here are 18 Questions to Get Kids to Talk About Their Day
- Ask Open-Ended Questions
One of the first rules you learn in any communication exercise is to keep the conversation flowing by using open-ended questions. These types of questions lead to answers that invite additional back-and-forth. Instead of asking a vague question like “How was your day?”, ask about a friend your child normally plays with, a project your child has been involved with or a test your child took.
- Listen, Engage and Show Interest
The other side of open-ended questions is active listening.
“Listen to your child’s answer,” Gibson says. “Answer back with a full sentence that shows you’re interested in the conversation. If your child says, ‘We played outside,’ ask, ‘What toys did you like playing with outside?’ This shows your child that you are listening.”
Be available when your child is home. If you’re working in the kitchen or den, let your child know you’re there if he wants or needs you. Oftentimes a child or teen wants to talk are when you’re busy; if your child approaches you, take a break and listen.
- Eliminate Electronic Distractions
Consider instituting an electronics-free period each evening to ensure you and your child are fully engaged in the conversation, as opposed to having half your attention on other distractions.
Dr. Fay says kids get out of practice talking to and relating with others when there’s too much screen time. Phones, tablets and gadgets that are turned off invite more conversation. Texting and phone calls can wait until after dinner. Make sure mom and dad model this behavior.
- Model Healthy Communication
“Try saying, ‘Guess what I learned today?’ and talk with your spouse about things you did or learned during the day in front of your child,” Dr. Fray says. When you model talking about your day, your child will soon join in the discussion. “When kids hear parents talking about their day, they get excited and want to join in the conversation.”
Some families share the best part of their day and the most challenging part of their day, even the First Family.
“Communication is learned and children who come from homes where they don’t have people who communicate regularly with them seem to speak less,” Gibson says. “Mirror to them what you want them to learn. If you’re a good listener and give kids the positive attention they crave, they will learn to communicate and have fun doing it.”
- Set Aside Time for Talking
It’s also important to get into a routine. “If you take time to have a conversation with your child after picking them up from being in care all day, it will become a habit for both of you,” suggests Gibson.
If you usually don’t see your child directly after school, use family meal time as a time for each person to share the best part or their day. Model this yourself by sharing a work story about a specific incident from your day.
You can also often learn more about your child’s day and any problems at bedtime. As you wind down for the day, you often replay the day’s problems and challenges in your mind; your child does the same thing. Incorporate cuddle time into your end-of-day routine. You never know what your child will share.
Need help starting the conversation? Try our “What I Did This Week” Printable
- Converse over Playtime
Most adults want a little down time after work, and kids are no different. Welcome your child home and be close at hand while they enjoy a snack. Next, invite your child to help with dinner or engage in a fun activity.
“Kids are more likely to talk about stuff when they are playing or doing something that’s fun,” Dr. Fay says.
This method can be especially helpful with your teenager. Teens can be way more challenging than toddlers when it comes to talking about their day. Taking a walk together, going for a drive in the car or taking part in an activity your teen enjoys will give you a golden opportunity to talk.
- Talk to Your Caregiver
Did you hire a nanny or after-school sitter to watch your kids in the afternoon? If you aren’t home when your kids get out of school, ask your sitter what she experiences. Do your kids talk to her about their day? Maybe they’re just sometimes tired of rehashing the school day by the time you get home. It’s important that your kids open up to someone. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a person who isn’t a parent. Get the highlights from your nanny and let your kids know that they can always talk to you.
- Know the Gist Before Asking
Know what’s happening at school and with your child’s friends. Visit the school’s website often, read school newsletters, connect with your child’s teachers on social media, talk with other parents and volunteer in the classroom. Encourage your child to invite friends over after school or on the weekend. All of these will help you ask more specific questions your child will be more likely to answer.
Learn more about the 16 Ways Parents Can Be Involved in the Classroom
- Recognize a Quiet Kid vs. One Who is Struggling
According to Dr. Fay, some kids are naturally quiet. Red flags that there may be a deeper problem include when your children are ambivalent about things they used to enjoy, experience a sudden change in friends, have a lack of friends or become sullen or irritable. Also, if your normally talkative child suddenly doesn’t want to talk about his or her day, there may be a problem.
Bullying could be a reason your child is closing up, so recognize the signs of bullying and learn How to be a Plugged-in Parent
When communicating with your child, the most important thing is to remember the basics of good parenting. When you model what you want a child to do, they will learn. Talk about your own day, set healthy limits and hold kids accountable for their actions — but do it all with love. Your child will respond in love.