It’s that back-to-school time of year and for many of us that means a conversation that goes a lot like this: Parent, “How was school today?” Kid: “Fine.” And that’s where the conversation ends. However, as parents we know there’s much more to the first days or weeks of school than just “fine.” There are many challenging social, academic and just plain logistical things going on between the hours of 8am and 3:30pm and no matter if a child is starting preschool or grad school, it helps to talk these things out. To do so, you’ll have to find a way past the dreaded barrier of “fine.”
First, start by appreciating that a child’s answer of “fine” may be way of saying they need a little more space before diving into the conversation. Think about coming home from work or other obligations and opening the door to find that everybody needs things from you. YIKES! Transitions are hard for everyone and if your child just stepped off the school bus or hopped into your car from pick-up line, you may need to accept “fine” as an answer while your child takes a few minutes to decompress.
While you’re waiting for your child to come back to the world of the living after a hard day, think about questions that will reengage your student’s brain. One key is to ask questions that require specific answers — not something open-ended like, “How was lunch?,” but ,”Did you sit with Emily at lunch and what did she do this summer?” Make your child’s brain search for for specific information!
Once you break through the barrier of “fine,” you have the opportunity to continue the conversation. And that means holding up your end of the bargain: When a child answers, instead of letting the conversation drop or just skipping to the next pre-chosen item in your list of questions like a police interrogation, use your own active listening skills to come up with questions that dig deeper into your child’s response. If your child tells you their friend Emily went to Maine this summer, you might ask what Emily did in Maine and whether your child thinks that trips to visit family or friends are more or less fun than trips your family takes on its own.
If you’re asking your child to engage in a conversation, make the choice to engage in the conversation, yourself!
And because all of this is easier said than done, here’s a list of 8 ready-to use questions to get you started:
- Who do you think is going to be your favorite teacher this year?
- If you could change your class/lunch/recess schedule, what would you do? (And do you think it’s good to have your academic subjects like math where they are in the day?)
- What’s something out of the ordinary that happened today?
- School is full of rules — what’s one rule you agree with but don’t really like? If that’s too easy, what’s one rule you disagree with but like?
- Who is someone at school you can talk to if you’re having problems?
- Not everyone has a good day, everyday. Who did you see having a hard time today and what could you do to help this afternoon or tomorrow?
- What’s one thing you said or did or thought or solved today at school that you’re proud of?
- What’s one thing you want to do and one thing you have to do tonight at home?
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, and author of books including “Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change”.