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5 Questions Better Than "How Was Your Day?"

Getting your kid to talk takes a little extra effort.

Key points

  • Asking kids the right questions can start laying the foundation for deeper conversations.
  • When asked "how was your day?" younger kids may have trouble organizing a narrative, while older kids may resist opening up altogether.
  • A better question to ask than "How was your day?" might be "What's one word you'd use to describe today?"

For the past couple of weeks, millions of children have begun their new school years, with today—the day after Labor Day—marking an official "Summer's really gone!" milestone for many. 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, you'll need a good follow-up. The younger the child, the less they may be able to think over the whole day in an organized enough manner to pick out key details and start forming a narrative about them. 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 181 straight utterances of "Fine."

Check out Dr. Andrea's new book, Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You've Always Wanted.

More of Dr. Andrea's posts on parenting and children:

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