Rethinking the Question: How to Engage Children in Meaningful Conversations After School

Psychologists suggest alternative approaches to foster open communication with children

As parents, we often find ourselves asking our children the same question every day: “How was school?” However, psychologists are now challenging the effectiveness of this question, arguing that it fails to elicit meaningful responses from children. In this article, we explore why “How was your day?” may not be the best question to ask and provide alternative approaches to engage children in more meaningful conversations after school.

The Common Question:

Psychologists suggest that the question “How was school?” is too broad and can be met with a simple and uninformative response like “fine.” Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, emphasizes that children may still be in a “performance” mindset after a day at school, making it difficult for them to articulate their experiences. Child psychologist Dr. Martha Deiros Collado adds that children’s main focus after school is often on food, fun, play, and rest, rather than reflecting on their day at school.

Understanding the Motivation:

Deiros Collado explains that parents’ curiosity about their children’s day stems from the fact that children spend more time at school than with their parents during the week. However, she advises parents to remember that they too may have responded similarly when asked about their day as children. Asking “How was school?” every day can become a “lazy habit” that does not foster new information or connection between parents and children.

Alternative Approaches:

Instead of immediately bombarding children with questions after school, Deiros Collado suggests being patient and waiting until the child is ready to talk. She advises parents to focus on how it feels to see their child again at the end of the day, expressing joy in their reunion. By observing the child’s emotions, parents can “name” their feelings and create a safe space for conversation. Neuroscientific evidence suggests that naming emotions can help bring calm to the body, allowing for a more meaningful conversation.

Timing and Engagement:

Papadopoulos highlights the importance of timing when engaging in conversations with children. Instead of immediately asking about their day, she suggests waiting until they are in a calmer mood, such as before bedtime. Engaging in an activity together, such as playing with plasticine or solving a puzzle, can create a more relaxed and less confrontational environment for conversation. This approach feels less like an interview and allows children to open up naturally.

Questions to Foster Connection:

To encourage children to share about their day, Deiros Collado advises parents to model sharing by talking about their own experiences. Sharing something real, such as a funny incident or a conversation had during the day, can prompt children to reciprocate. Starting questions with “what” instead of “did” or “why” can also lead to more detailed responses. Questions that focus on emotions, such as asking about times of sadness or difficulty, can provide insight into different aspects of the child’s day.

Conclusion:

When it comes to engaging children in meaningful conversations after school, psychologists suggest moving away from the generic question “How was school?” Instead, parents are advised to be patient, observe their child’s emotions, and create a calm and relaxed environment for conversation. By modeling sharing and asking open-ended questions that focus on emotions, parents can foster a deeper connection with their children and gain valuable insights into their day at school. Ultimately, it is through these alternative approaches that parents can truly engage their children in meaningful conversations beyond the surface level.


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