The “How was your day” trap that most parents fall into & how to get out of it: Communication tips and guidance for parents.

Author: Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW

happy kidIt’s about that time- back to school for your kids! It’s also that time when you ask your child regularly, “How was your day”, and they respond with one-worded answers such as, “Fine”, or “Okay”. If this pattern continues on for the entire school year, both you and your child are left feeling frustrated, and you never really know how your child felt or what they experienced during their day.

So, what’s wrong with the question, “How was your day”? For one, it leaves little room for more than a generic answer. More importantly, the question doesn’t really get at what you really want to know, and does not tell you important information about your child. Why not try a different communication approach this school year?

The trick is to use open-ended questions, or to make statements. This way of communicating may decrease the likelihood that your child will get defensive about your questions; will make your questions not-so-predictable to your child, and potentially give you more information about your child. Open-ended questions usually make people think, reflect, give feelings and opinions-which is your goal. You can be sure you are asking an open-ended question when the answer is not a “yes” or a “no”. Here are some suggestions (in no specific order):

1) Who did you spend most of your time with today?
This could help you assess the social functioning of your child. If you have any concern that your child is getting bullied, or if your child is having problems with friends, this question may give you a lot of information.

2) If you could change one thing about today, what would you change?
This is a “magical thinking” question, that works well with children 12 and under. You may be surprised about some of the responses you get from this one.

3) If you could tell me one thing about your day today, what would it be?
This is a very unstructured approach, and will likely to give you
information about your child that you would have never thought to ask.

4) How was today different from yesterday?
This question gives a frame of reference and give you insight about how they felt today versus yesterday.

5) Show me without using words what your day was like for you today.
For younger kids (under 12), this might be fun and unexpected for them. Encourage them to use their facial expressions, use props in the house, or use you to help them. All of this will facilitate positive interaction with your child. Remember- rules are that they can’t talk. They might get so into it that they end up gushing about their day to you after all.

kid painting6) Draw what your day looked like today.
For the shyer or quiet types, this may give you a lot of information.

Ask yourself- what do you REALLY want to know about how your child’s day went? You can tailor your questions depending on what you want to get out of it. Just make sure your questions are open-ended, and do not ask the same question more than one day in a row. You don’t want to be that predictable, now do you? Not only will your kids be surprised (and possibly relieved) by a change in your line of questioning, but they may actually give you a little bit of information even if they don’t realize they are!

Achieve the Life and Relationships You Desire
Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW
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