It’s the age-old question parents ask their kids: “How was school today?” And for generations, kids have been grunting out some variation of the same vague response: “fine.”
Um, yeah right. No one and nothing is simply “fine.” “Fine” is for people who don’t want to get into it. “Fine” is for the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s because you’re just being polite. “Fine” does not give me the emotional depth and longed-for connection I’m looking for from my three girls when I ask about their school day.
I know my kids need to individuate and detach from me and be independent, functioning beings, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready or willing to be left in the dark when it comes to the whole what’s really happening during the school day. The trick is knowing how to get what I want.
Like a lot of parenting, this is a learned skill, and timing is everything.
Even though the car is my favorite place to start up conversations with my kids (mostly because they’re a captive audience), they’re often not up for it right after I pick them up. Instead, my 12-year-old opens up at dinnertime when the whole family is around to listen. My youngest often becomes a chatterbox at bedtime — not my first choice for having a meaningful conversation, but it’s when she’s at her most talkative and has me all to herself. My teen is the least predictable. Some days she welcomes my questions; others she gets frustrated and tells me she’s too busy with homework to talk (ouch).
For me, it’s not only getting my kids to tell me what’s going on with them that’s challenging. It’s also making sure I’m able to focus and not interrupt when they do start talking. Afternoons are hectic at our house with dinner prep and after-school activities. I can’t tell you how many would-be conversations have been cut short by the oven timer going off or me asking a follow up question too soon because we have to head out to the next activity. Our kids are sensitive beings, especially when they reach the tween and teen years. I’ve learned to sit down, shut up, and listen when they start telling me about their lives, and if I’m lucky, their feelings.
Here are a few solid conversation starters to help you get beyond the “fine”:
1. What was your favorite part of the day?
2. What was the most exciting thing that happened?
3. What is the most interesting area in your classroom?
4. What was the most boring thing you did at school today?
6. If you could give your teacher a nickname, what would it be?
7. Who had the best lunch today?
8. What was the silliest thing that happened?
9. What made you laugh?
10. What did you do that was kind today?
11. What did someone else do for you that was helpful?
12. What’s your favorite thing about your teacher?
13. If you could choose anyone to sit next to in class, who would it be?
14. What did you play at recess?
15. Did you get to make anything cool today?
16. Do you think your classroom rules are fair or unfair?
17. Is there anything that happened that you have questions about?
18. Was there a moment when you felt confused about something?
19. What was hard for you today?
20. Is there anything you want me to know about your day?
21. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
Besides learning how to get my kids to reveal the innermost secrets about their school day, I’ve also learned to thank them for sharing. It lets them know I truly value their experiences and feelings. It also encourages them to keep on sharing, which is really the only surefire way to soothe my desperate mama FOMO. If only classrooms had nanny cams…just kidding (no I’m not).