Going to school or participating in activities gives your child many new and exciting experiences that you, as a parent, can't wait to hear about. Especially in these school-age years, it is important to connect with your child about what is going on in their life, their interests and how they feel.
"Positive attention and connectedness are hallmarks of a good parent-child relationship. Checking in on a daily basis shows your kids you are available for them and interested," says Stevie Puckett-Perez, Ph.D., a licensed pediatric psychologist at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern.
But sometimes, getting your child to talk about their day can be a challenge. Here are some tips from Dr. Puckett-Perez to make the most out of conversations with your child.
Why won't my child talk to me about their day?
When asking questions, most parents have been on the receiving end of one-word answers like "fine," "good," or the dreaded "I don't know" from their child.
"There are lots of reasons this happens, but it is rarely because your child doesn't want to talk about things," says Dr. Puckett-Perez. "Kids want to talk about their days and connect with their parents. They just need to do it on their terms."
Generally, children need to be in a place of comfort and feel ready, open and interested before they can have a good conversation, share meaningful information and connect. For example, children may need time to process the details of the day as they shift into "home mode" after school.
It's important to remember, too, that kids don't often conceptualize their day as a whole. Instead, they remember exciting things that happened in the last few hours. As a result, asking broad questions like, "How was your day?" may feel challenging to answer.
How to get your child to share about their day
The right timing and the right questions can make a difference in getting your child to tell you about their day. See four tips from Dr. Puckett-Perez to help.
1. Be patient and give your child some space
Your child might not be ready to talk to you right away, and that's okay. When your child first gets home from school or an event, avoid asking them questions. "Instead, focus on having positive interactions with your child. You can set a comfortable and happy tone with a greeting and maybe even a snack," says Dr. Puckett-Perez.
Some examples of these greetings include:
- Hey there, I'm happy to see you!
- Hi sweetheart, I missed you today. I can't wait to chat more with you.
- Hey! So glad you're home. I was just thinking about you and grabbed some snacks I thought you might like.
2. Look for natural opportunities to connect
Parents can look for opportunities in the evening to join their child in an activity and show interest in what they're doing. These interactions can build comfort that fosters a willingness to share.
Timing is also important. Your child might be more engaged at different points after school. You know your child best and when they are most likely to share. For many kids, it's after they've had a snack, had a chance to relax or as they're winding down for bed. Offer a few different chances to engage.
"If we create a comfortable, non-pressured space, show positive attention and genuine interest, and give them time to decompress, they'll come around," says Dr. Puckett-Perez.
3. Ask your child specific questions about their day
When you and your child are ready to have a conversation, ask specific and engaging questions openly. Avoid asking rapid-fire questions. These can feel like an interrogation, overwhelming your child and shutting down their ability to communicate.
Rather than asking general question like, “how was your day?” try asking more lighthearted and concrete questions. As a parent, you could say, "let's share one good and one not-so-great thing that happened today. I can go first."
Questions to ask your kids after school can include:
- Did you get any compliments today? Did you give any compliments today?
- If you could trade lunches with someone, who would you trade with?
- If you could switch places with someone in your class, who would you switch with?
- Is there anything from your day that you want some help with?
- Was anything annoying?
- What made you smile today?
- What was something funny that happened?
- What was the easiest thing you did today?
- What was the hardest thing you did today?
- What was the most fun today?
- When did you feel most bored?
- When did you feel most wiggly today?
- Who brought the best snack today?
- Who did you play with today?
- Who was kind to you today? Who were you kind to?
4. Be an active listener
Nothing can shut down a conversation faster than an unengaged participant. Listen with interest and attention when your child shares something about their day. Show your child you are engaged through your body language, facial expressions and tone. Respond with non-threatening follow-up questions. Reinforce positive behaviors when they share (e.g., "It was really cool to hear about how your presentation went. I enjoyed knowing more about what it was like!").
Developing these conversation skills can take time. Keep asking concrete questions, showing interest and creating easy moments of opportunity for your child to share comfortably.
"It's better to play it cool and be patient than to push or interrogate," says Dr. Puckett-Perez. "They'll come around!"
The Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology team at Children's Health can help children and parents cope with many common childhood emotions. See more back-to-school resources for a healthy and happy year at the Children's Health Back to School Hub.