For the past couple of weeks, millions of schoolchildren have begun their new school years, with today—the day after Labor Day—marking an official "Summer's really gone!" milestone for many of them. Whether nervous or jubilant, whether at home or at work, parents across the world will be eager to hear how those days went. And what will be the most likely question to emerge from those parents' mouths as their kids bound off the bus or burst out of the school doors?
"Hey, sweetie. How was your day?"
It's a great sentiment, of course. It shows you are interested and ready to listen. It is (relatively) open-ended in that it doesn't lead to a yes or no answer, and it can form a good foundation for a nice conversation. I've used it hundreds of times myself.
You might need to bring in the reinforcements, however. Especially if your child is prone to answering "Good" or "Fine" without elaborating (ahem!), day in and day out, you'll need a good followup. The younger the child, the less they may be able to think over the whole day in an organized-enough manner to pick out some key details and start forming a narrative about it. And the older they are, the less likely they are to immediately open up about what might be a whole universe of complex emotions and social happenings.
So, by all means, begin with "How was your day." It may work fine as an opener. But if you find it gets you to the same dead ends, you might need to mix it up a little and delve deeper. Try:
1) What's one word you'd use to describe today?
2) Did anything surprise you today?
3) How was today different than yesterday?
4) What did your teacher talk about most today?
5) Who did you spend the most time with today?
Of course, the older your child, the more nuanced you can get. Having daily discussions about when they helped or were helped by others, what worried them, what made them feel proud, what made them happy/sad/angry/scared or what they learned academically are all great things to add to a regular dinner-hour lowdown. But as you're first getting in the door, the questions above can prove fruitful to start laying the foundation for deeper conversations-- even better than "How was your day." Unless, of course, you don't mind one-hundred and eighty-one straight utterances of "Fine."
For more of Dr. Bonior's articles on parenting and children:
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and media commentator. She is the author of the upcoming book Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World, and The Friendship Fix and Baggage Check, the longtime mental health column in the Washington Post Express. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
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