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Open-Ended Questions to Ask Your Child About His Day at School

by Molly Thompson, studioD

Parents the world over are tired of the one-word answers they receive when asking their child how his school day went. According to most kids, school is typically either "OK" or "I don't know," and "nothing" or "school stuff" is what happens during the day there. Get your child to share some real information about his day by asking questions that aren't easily answered with one-word responses. Ask questions that encourage your child to think about what happened during the day that mattered to him to get a better sense of how events at school affect your child, who his friends are and if there are issues brewing.

Changing the Dialogue

Just as you appreciate a few question-free minutes to decompress when you get home at the end of the day, recognize that your child might need the same thing. But once you're both home and enjoying a snack or some downtime together, start your new approach to the after-school chats. It may take a few attempts over the course of a week or two, but start switching up your questions from "How was your day?" or "How did school go?" to more open-ended questions. These require your child to mull over her day and put a little thought into her answers -- you hope -- and provide you with something more informative than the usual "I don't know" or "nothing."

Casual Conversation

Start on a positive note. Ask a younger child to describe one or two of his favorite things from school that day. If you know he was scheduled to have music or art class, for example, ask him what his favorite song or instrument was, or what kind of materials he used in art class. And instead of starting off with a "question word," phrase it in terms such as, "Tell me what you made in art class today" or "Tell me about your favorite part of the day." Using a more conversational tone and approach can keep the daily Q & A session from coming across as an interrogation.

Targeted Questions

On days when you know your child had a significant activity or event at school, target your questions to get her started talking about that event. Ask her what her three favorite animals were from the class's zoo trip, or which event she liked most and which least at the school field day. Build on her answers to continue the conversation. "What was it about the elephant that you liked the most?" or "What funny things did the monkeys do when you were watching them?" should spur her to provide more details and keep the conversation going.

Give and Take

If your child seems reluctant to answer even the open-ended questions or appears withdrawn, take the initiative to start things off. "Honey, I had a really busy day today. How about you?" or "A really unusual thing happened this afternoon at work," followed by a brief recounting of the event. Then follow up by asking him what the most interesting thing was that happened to him at school that day. Or take a sympathetic approach: "Math was always my hardest class. Which class do you think is the hardest? Why?"

Listen to What Isn't Being Said

Beyond gaining information about your child's day, her likes and dislikes and how things are going at school, the open-ended approach also gives you hints about potential issues or problems. If she constantly describes a teacher as "mean," she might be getting reprimanded often or treated unkindly. If she seems sad when talking about playing alone on the playground, pursue why that's happening: is she just shy about joining in, or are the other kids deliberately excluding her? Even when she's reluctant to offer specifics, reassure her that you're always available to listen to her concerns.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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