How to Get Kids to Open Up About Their School Day
By Dr. Michelle Borba
Does trying to get your kids to open up about their day feel like an inquisition? Do you feel like you’re giving your kid the third degree to tell you anything about their life? If so, studies show that using different communication techniques can help kids open up and share more about their life. Here’s the typical conversation:
You: “What did you learn today?” Kid: “Nothing”
You: “Do you have any homework? Kid: Nope
You: “Did you make a new friend?” Kid: Yep
If this sounds at all familiar, don’t despair. There are ways to get children to talk about their school day and even give us a clue as to what’s going on in their world. The trick is to use a few different communication strategies. Find ones that work best for you and your kid and then practice the same one over and over until they become second nature. Also: expect only a gradual opening up–never an over-night change.
14 Tips to Get Kids to Open Up and Talk More About What’s Going On in Their Lives (and get beyond “Nope.”. “Yep,” and “Fine!”
- Wait at least a half an hour
Kids are generally drained and strained the moment they walk in door. So wait at least 30 minutes to start talking about school. Give your child a chance to decompress and have a snack, take off the backpack, and just breathe.
- Don’t turn questions into a third degree
What would make you want to open up and tell her all those details? The same rules apply to kids. Big kid turn offs: pushing, prodding, demanding, coaxing, lecturing and threatening.
- Look interested
Think of how your best friend asks you about your day. Use her example. Make sure you are relaxed and appear genuinely interested when you speak to your child.
- Ask questions that require more than yes or no
“Do you have homework?” “Did you give your speech?” are questions that make your kid only have to answer with a yes or no response. So pose questions that require your child to respond with more than just yes, no, nope, sure, nothing, fine.
- Don’t use the same questions
A big kid turn off is hearing your same old predictable: “How was your day?” query. So be creative. Churn up those questions so your kid knows you are interested!
- Stop and listen
The nanosecond your child utters ANYTHING related to school, stop and give your full presence. Catch any little nugget of information and make it seem as though it’s a gold mine. Kids open up more when they think you’re interesting.
- Stretch conversation with “invitation openers”
If and when your child shares a detail try using the “stretching method.” Don’t push or prod but instead use these type of comments: “Really?” “Uh huh?” “I don’t believe it!” “Wow!” They’re not threatening and invite a talker to open up.
- Repeat “talk” portions
Try repeating bits of your child’s conversation: Child: “I played on the swing.” You: “You played on the swing.” The trick is to repeat the tidbit in a matter-of-fact but interested way to get your child to open up and add more.
- Make your house kid-friendly
Many parents swear they find out more about school from their kids’ friends than from their own child. So invite your child’s friends over. Keep the fridge stocked with food. Set up a basketball court (or whatever you need to keep those kids at your house). And then be friendly (but not intrusive) to the friend. You may find that not only do the friends open up more, but your child will tag onto the friend’s conversation.
- Get on the school website
Find out what’s going on in your kid’s school world: read the teacher newsletters, click onto the school calendar, read the school activities schedule and menu. You can then ask specific questions about your kid’s day.
- Go into your kid’s time zone
Find out when and where your kids are most comfortable talking and use those as jump off points to get the conversation rolling about the school day.
- Sit side to side
Boys as well as more timid, sensitive kids are often threatened with the “let’s sit down and chat about the day” routine. Try sitting side to side instead of face to face (which is less threatening).
- Talk while doing
Some kids (especially boys) are more likely to open up while doing something they enjoy like shooting baskets, eating ice cream, drawing, or building Legos. So get that chess board out!
- Put yourself into the mix
My girlfriend vowed to turn her kids’ “Nope.” “Yep. “Nothing!” type comments around. The one thing she said finally did the trick was to share her own day. She waited until everyone was relaxed and used the family meal as a time to review everyone’s day. She always began by describing her experiences using a natural conversational tone. It took a while but pretty soon her kids looked forward to her descriptions and began to open up about their own days.
Dr. Michele Borba is an internationally recognized expert and author on children, teens, parenting, bullying and moral development. She is an NBC contributor appearing over 100 times on the TODAY show and is the regular parenting expert on Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers. Her work has been featured on Dr. Phil, Dateline, The View, The Doctors, Fox News, The Early Show and CNN and well as in Newsweek,
People, Good Housekeeping, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Post, The New York Times and The Globe and Mail. She was an MSNBC contributor to two televised “Education Nation” specials. Dr. Borba is the award-winning author of 22 parenting and educational books translated into 14 languages. Titles include: Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, Parents Do Make A Difference, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me!, No More Misbehavin’, Building Moral Intelligence (cited by Publishers’ Weekly as “Among the most noteworthy of 2001”), and Esteem Builders used by 1.5 million students worldwide. She writes as the parenting expert for Dr. Oz’s website, as well a daily column for her blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check: www.micheleborba.com