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Revising the "How Was School?" Script

how to talk to kids after school

It’s a scene we all know well.  Sometimes it happens during the car ride home from school, others the kitchen while you prepare a meal, but the script is always the same. 

You: Hey, how was school today?

Kid: Fine.

You: Well, what did you learn?

Kid: Nothing.

You: Really, you learnt nothing all day? 

Kid:  Not really.

You can continue to push, and you did the first couple times, but you eventually gave up. Now your kid plugs into his or her game as soon as they stroll through the door and neglects to even acknowledge your presence.  This behavior might seem alien, foreign, completely detached from the little tyke that pattered after you around the house, and on some level, it is. Your kid has developed, both physically and emotionally, so that sharing every detail of their lives doesn’t appeal to them anymore. This leaves you in a strange position; you want to know more about what’s going on in their lives, but if you pry too much, you know that they’ll resent you for it.  The truth is, if your kid absolutely does not want to tell you something, there’s no foolproof way to wriggle it out, but you can overcome apathy.   

It’s not that your child doesn’t care about you. It’s just not important to them whether you know the intricacies of their day, which, from their perspective, was likely exactly the same as the last.  Compared to the easy surface-level dopamine rush of playing their video game, telling you about the antics of third period and re-explaining who Mr. Jacobs is for the twelfth time isn’t appealing. They don’t see the conversation as necessary, but, with the classic family dinner declining, it’s more important than ever that you seize the moment.  You might be providing the right environment for sharing, but how are you phrasing your questions? If you really want to generate responses from your child, you can’t just ask the first thing that comes to your mind. You need to be strategic. Try phrasing your questions like this:

“What made today different than yesterday?”

You force your kid to challenge their perception with this question. In their mind, every day at school blends together, but this makes them confront all the differences.  They might not consider that the substitute teacher in earth science relevant, but you want to know. You might get a few “nothings” in response, but resist the urge to reply with the dreaded, “Nothing at all?” You’ll be prying too much, and your kid will close up. If you get a “nothing," move on.

“Well, today I [...] School’s better than that, right?”

Or “Who do you think had the better day?” It doesn’t have to be negative.  The important thing is that you are generating a discussion that is a two-way street.  While your kid might have no idea what you really do for work, putting some focus on you will make them feel like they aren’t being interrogated.  You’re revealing something about your day, and showing them that your goal is not to learn information. It’s to have a conversation.

“Where do you hang out the most?”

This question is taken from Liz Evans’s Huffington Post article, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on the others listed. To the observant child, most of these questions are obviously attempts to get them to open up. And while that in itself is okay, some of them come across as too desperate. This first one, though, is casual enough and it reveals a lot more than you think about your kid. Does he hang out in the library during lunch? Do her friends all drag her to play tetherball? Is there a teacher’s classroom that they prefer? These are the sort of things that kids don’t think to tell their parents, but that you would absolutely love to know. 

No matter what you ask, you’ll be unsuccessful if you assault them at the wrong moment. Give them time to decompress after school, just like how you want to unwind after work. Teachers have demanded information from your kids all day, so it’s no surprise that they’re unresponsive at first. Be sure give them some time, let them eat some food, and then ask your carefully-phrased questions. However, regardless of what tactics you use, you cannot force your kids to share, but you can certainly push them in this right direction. As long as you approach these after-school talks like a conversation and not an interrogation, your kid should have no problem opening up to you when it really counts.

Dayton Uttinger's picture

Dayton socializes for a living and writes for fun, all while caring for her ten year old uncle. Her rarely relevant degree gives her experience in political science, writing, Spanish, rugby, theater, coding, and spreading herself too thin. She will forever be a prisoner of her family’s business, doomed to inherit responsibility despite frequent existential protests.