They’ve been away from us for five to eight hours. Our kids, the little pieces of our hearts walking around, have experienced a day without you, and all you want is an insight into that time. So when your kid hops into your car or gets off the bus the first thing you ask is, ‘How was your day.’
Then they say the dreaded word, ‘fine’. Your momma’s heart screams, and you say ‘Tell me more. And these precious children you’ve nourished, fed, bathed, carried, and heard the theme song to VeggieTales more times than you want to admit, dare to say, ‘It was fine, Mom.’
The fine is the last thing we want to hear from our kids when they come home from school, so how do we coax more than a one-word answer from our kiddos?
It starts with Timing
We say this a lot in our house, ‘know your timing’. Just like I don’t want to see a new Lego build at 5:30 AM, kids don’t want to be asked another question when they are walking in after a long day. Their brains have been busy navigating both their education and their social circles and need time to decompress.
Give them the time to grab a snack and veg a little bit. Whether that’s with music while doing homework or kicking a soccer ball in the backyard.
Allowing for this decompression opens your kids up one to remember their day and to want to talk about it.
Truthfully bedtime is the best time to ask questions. I don’t know why or how but kids open up about what’s going on in their heads and hearts when you’re about to turn off the lights. It makes me twitch at times because Momma's time is valuable. But bedtime is the best time to ask about your kids' day.
But what questions do we ask?
Think of the Type of Question you are asking
In a New Mexico State University paper (PDF) Open- versus closed-ended survey questions (researchgate.net) on the advantages and disadvantages of open or closed-ended questions had some interesting facts to glean from.
The article states that “Open-ended questions are analogous to the essay or short answer questions you probably dreaded as a student and close-ended questions are analogous to the multiple-choice questions you probably preferred.”
Was this true of you in school? Were you thankful for multiple choice and dread the essay? Even as a person who enjoys writing, and might have written a 14-page paper, instead of the assigned 7-page report, I preferred multiple choice. That was because I knew the correct answer was provided. I just had to remember which is the right one.
The same is true for our kids, even the little-bitty preschoolers. If there is a way to quickly answer the question they will choose it.
So how do we get more than a ‘fine’, when we ask our kids how their day was? We have to make sure our questions can’t be answered with a single word.
Then what do we ask?
Think about what your child’s focus on their day might be.
We have to ask questions that spur our kids to tell us details. To do that we have to ask questions based on our kid's interests. Because the essay questions about a topic that interested you were easier to write than the one that wanted an exposition on a poem whose author might have been into drugs. But I digress.
So where do you start what part of your kid's? day holds the most interest to them.
Are they more social and would open up more about who they played with on the playground or sat with at lunch. Or are they more intellectual and want to tell you about the science experiment they did that day?
You know your kid best. Try to find a question that will resonate with an interest, and you will be surprised how much your kids will open up.
Making space for your kids to open up in the silly and mundane of their day sets a pattern of communication that will help when the things that happen in their day get sticky and uncomfortable.
Give these tips a try and see how it changes your conversations from one-word answers to enjoyable interaction.