When “How was school today” stops conversation

“Hi, honey, how did you do in school today?” That may be the most common greeting heard each day in homes across the nation. Though not discussed very much, it is also the start of an interaction that can be quite uncomfortable. Instead of eliciting a happy recounting of the day’s activities, often what follows is silence or mumbled one-to-two word answers such as “OK.”

Most parents cannot understand why. It seems so simple! It only seems simple because it represents a skill we’ve mastered long ago. And as with all skills, once mastered, we totally forget what we had to do to achieve the mastery.

If we put aside what we know, we can begin to see just how complicated this question is. It basically requires some pretty high level organizational skills. After all, thousands of actions, events and observations have occurred from the time a child leaves for school in the morning till he or she returns home in the afternoon.

If the child takes the question literally, we could then be the recipient of an endless recounting that covers each and every detail (though, of course, that is not our goal). Instead, we expect that the child is able to organize the events in some way so that they range from significant to insignificant. Then we expect him or her to select one or two of the more significant ones and recount them to us. That requires sophisticated conversational skills that can take years for mastery.

We do not have to abandon our goal of having a pleasant after-school exchange with our children. We can easily accomplish this goal by switching techniques.

1. First, drop the question form (those are the ones that tend to be start with words such as “what” “who” and “why” and instead offer a comment that expresses a thought or observation you have made (e.g., “I am planning to …” “We could go to …”). This is not difficult since comments are the way we speak with one another most of the time. However, the switch does represent a habit change in the way we speak with our children and so, at first, it can take a bit of planning.

2. The comment can be an observation that you make about the child (“You seem upbeat today. It’s nice to see you looking that way”) or it could be a comment about yourself (“I had the greatest day today. For so long I have wanted to…”) or a comment about some outside event (e.g., “I was planning on getting your favorite snack today but when I went to the store…”)

3 At first, given that the type of exchange is new, your child may not respond. That is nothing to be concerned about. Within a short time, the child is likely to follow the adult’s lead and begin commenting in return. When that happens, you have the beginnings of a pleasant relaxed, conversation. Try it. You may be amazed at how much easier it is to talk with your child when the conversations are made up of comments rather than questions.

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