Dear Lenore: When I try to find out how my 10-year-old’s school day went, all she’ll say is “fine.” How do I get her to talk to me?
I’d suggest starting with how you should talk to your child. Asking, “How was school today?” is not going to get you more than a one-word answer. You definitely don’t want to ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” or “fine.” And no matter what you ask, at age 10, when the peer group is becoming so important to kids, she just may not want to share. But here are some suggestions.
“What was the most interesting thing that happened today?” You may find out something educational that took place in the classroom, or you may get a snarky remark about her lunch or something funny happening at break time. If you have more than one child, a round of questions like this over dinner might work, as the younger ones will probably be more willing to talk first and the older ones will feel pressured to follow.
“What was the best/worst part of your day?” Then follow up with “why” or “in what way?”
“Tell one good thing and one not so good thing that happened today.”
Ask for specific information in a positive way. “Who did you sit with at lunch?” or “What did you do at recess?” may give you insight into the social situation. Try not to let your answers sound judgmental or think you should provide a quick fix to any problem. Avoid “Why did you do that?” A better line of questions would be, “What could you do differently next time?” or “How do you think you can make that situation better?”
“What homework do you have today?” might be a good way to begin homework time. If you know there are assignments in math and social studies and a theme to write for English, you will be able to monitor your child’s progress without being overbearing. After a half-hour you can ask, “So what’s still left to do?” You can offer to look over what has been completed when you know what the schedule is.
Another good question for the dinner table or when homework is complete is, “What’s on the schedule for tomorrow?” Is there a test to prepare for? A due date or social event your child is nervous about? Is there a field trip or special activity after school? Does your child need extra money or a bag lunch? Don’t wait until morning to find out there is something special needed from you that day.
You’ll know you’re molding your child’s character when she asks, “And what did you do today, Mom?” Besides the obvious benefits of knowing what is happening with your children, you are teaching your family to have empathy, and to really listen to others.
Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your child’s age or grade.