We ask members of our Mums At The Table group to share their tips on questions to ask kids so they'll open up about their day at school.
There's a social media meme I've seen doing the rounds, depicting the amount of talking a child does. Their propensity for chatting peaks somewhere around preschool age and gradually declines till they become teenagers. Then you'd be lucky to get a word out of them . . . in a week.
And while my personal experience has largely been true—my four-year-old has an incredible amount of stamina for chatting, especially when it's related to the question "Why?"—he mysteriously clams up whenever I pick him up from preschool and ask him about his day.
"I forgot," is his go-to answer.
This is a child who can remind me of things he experienced two years ago, but can't tell me what he did a mere few hours earlier.
Questions to ask kids—from other mums who have been there
As expected, the mums in our group had some great ideas and a lot of them are related to being quite specific about your questions:
Ask about their highlights and lowlights
A lot can happen in six hours. It's possible your kid tells you nothing has happened that day because so much has happened they don't even know where to begin. Help them to focus and cherry-pick the most important information to share about their day.
What was the best part of your day? What made u smile today? —Leesa
I ask what was their favourite part of the day and what was the least favourite part of their day. —Jasmine
What did you do today that was hard? How were you kind today? —Jessica
I always ask for the pit and the peak (best and worst bit). —Amber
- Tell me one thing you liked today? What was your favourite thing today? —Tina
Ask specific questions
We sometimes forget that our kids are still learning to communicate and grasp language skills. Resorting to "I forgot" or a shrug for an answer could simply be cover for the fact they can't find the words to describe everything that happened during their day.
- Tell me something new you learnt today? —Ruth
Who did you play with at lunch time? —Tina
When I ask them how their day was and they say “it was good” I say “that’s great—tell me about something that made it good”. —Kristin
What did you do after morning tea/after you arrived and put away your bag? —Ruth
Tell them about your day first
Children are natural mimics. By going first, you give them ideas on what they can share and show them how to do it (in a way that's satisfactory to you).
I start by telling them something silly to get them giggling like, “My best bit of today was the delicious peach I had at lunchtime and my worst part was when Daddy farted on me this morning.” —Amber
I start with telling them what I did, what I had for lunch, who I saw etc. That way it usually encourages them to follow on from my story with a story or event of their own. —Becky
Location, location, location
It's not a catch-cry simply reserved for real estate. Where you open a conversation with your children can have an impact on the quality you get as well.
- Give them full attention not when driving or on the phone, sit down and put everything aside to hear about their day. It makes them feel important and more inclined to share. —Elle
Sometimes, it's not about the questions, but about timing
Children may choose to open up in their own time, without prompting—and often at a time least convenient to you. But if you take a moment to detect a pattern, you can start to form strategies around it. My son would often open up about his day, dropping random nuggets, while getting dressed just after a shower. Another favourite time to voluntarily offer information about his day is just before bed (that's usually when all the big questions come out, isn't it?).
I was starting to get frustrated, trying to hurry him along to get dressed or go to sleep, when realisation hit me: He's telling me about his day. He wants to connect!
So these days, I try to factor that little bit of time in after his shower or before bed, and we will often have some great conversations.
Motherhood: It's all about figuring out what makes them tick.