It's evening. Maybe you're lucky enough to be sitting around the dinner table as a family. Or perhaps you've got a few moments in the car with your child between activities. So you ask, "How was your day?" But all you get are grunts and shrugged shoulders. Instead you try asking, "What did you do in school today?" This time you get the customary one-word answer: "Nothing."
What's happening here? You're simply trying to connect with your child. And while it seems like he's brushing you off, he may just be trying to disengage from school business. And your questions prevent that. Or he's so used to the question rolling off your tongue as a form of greeting, that he doesn't think you expect a real answer.
Rather than push harder for answers to your standard end-of-the-school-day questions, why not try some new conversation primers? Here are 21 ideas to get you rolling:
1. Tell me something that made you laugh.
2. Who did you encourage today? How?
3. Who encouraged you? What did they do?
4. If you had a "do-over" button, which part of your day would you press it on? Why?
5. What are you glad for?
6. Is there anything you missed today? What do you miss about it?
7. Name something you are proud of.
8. If you could be any teacher in your school, which one would you be? Why?
9. If today had a color, what would it be? Why?
10. Who did you sit with at lunch today? What did you talk about?
11. What do you look forward to next week/weekend/month?
12. Name something you're good at now that you weren't last year. What makes it easier?
13. What's one thing you'd like to learn to do someday?
14. What's one thing I could do for you or say to you that would make you feel good?
15. Who do you admire in your class? What do you like about them?
16. When you approach school, who did you look for first? Why?
17. Tell me about one thing you learned today. What makes it interesting?
18. What do you hope to do tomorrow?
19. What part of your day do you wish lasted longer?
20. What's the best thing about your teacher(s)?
21. What don't most people at school know about you?
For fun, write each question on a slip of paper and place in a container near the dinner table or in your car. Each evening pick out a question from the container to ask. Invite your child to add questions of his own to the mix or let him create his own container of questions to ask you. Take turns answering the same or different questions.
If all else fails, try posing this final question and see if your child can begin building the bridge from his side of the conversation: What question do you wish I would ask you after school?
Some tips on creating an atmosphere that encourages dialog:
– Don't machine gun multiple questions at your child at once. It's best to only ask one or two questions to get conversation going. Then stop and listen.
– Be prepared to answer any question that you ask. And be honest in the answers you give. You and your child can both learn more about each other and what goes on in your day when you create an atmosphere of safety and openness.
– Listen carefully to your child. Reflect back what you hear her say. Acknowledge any emotions implicit in the communication.
– Stick with what works. If several of these questions (or new ones of your own) generate more discussion than others, don't be afraid to go back to them again and again. Just don't let them become the rote substitution for "how was your day?"
Other resources for initiating dialogue:
Check out http://www.conversationstarters.com for hundreds of discussion topics, including a random question generator.
TableTopics® sells sets of conversation-starting question cards geared to a variety of situations, including Family, Teen, and Moms & Daughter editions. You can buy a cube with 135 cards or a portable set of 40 cards. Available at select retailers or online at http://www.tabletopics.com or through Amazon.com.
Flip through a book of questions to get fresh ideas. Consider 101 Conversation Starters For Families by Gary D. Chapman and Ramon L. Presson (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2012).
Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer and mom to three girls who do "nothing" at school but have plenty to say about it once they get going.