How Was Your Day? Talking to Children After School

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Dr. Corinne Masur

It’s a time honored tradition for parents, grandparents, and other adults to ask children “how was you day at school?”

And, as any parent or any observant adult knows, these questions usually elicit very little in the way of information. In fact, all you are likely to get is a shrug of the shoulders!

What’s going on here?

Why do adults always ask these questions and why don’t children ever answer?

Children, especially young children (five years old and younger), live in the moment. They are paragons of mindfulness. The rest of us pay to learn how to live in the moment, while children just do it. They’re interested in what is going on RIGHT NOW. So, if you’re walking down the sidewalk with them, they are feeling tired and not wanting to walk, or looking at the dog passing by, or walking on the wall next to them.

If, at that moment, you ask how their day at school was, it comes as a surprise. Usually, they’re not thinking about school at all. They are thinking about right now.

So why do parents ask?

Sending your child to daycare or pre-school or regular school means not knowing what your child is doing all day. This very very hard, especially if you cared for your child for a significant portion of each day prior to their starting school. You are used to knowing how your child feels from moment to moment and what he or she is doing, Once in school, the day is like a black box, and at the end of the day many parents are desperate to know how their child did that day.

But this desire to know is completely separate from your child’s desire to tell you – and that is something that’s hard for some parents to come to terms with. Some children are chatty and will spontaneously talk about what happened at school, who their friends are, and what the teacher said. But many will not. And many will not even tell you if you ask.

Sometimes parents feel such pressure that they pepper their children with questions at the end of the day. Sadly, this is often not only unsuccessful but it backfires, resulting in the child refusing to say anything.

So parents have to separate out their own needs and desire to know from what is best for their children.

Asking repeated questions is probably not best and and often unproductive.

But have heart, parents, if you are going to get information, it will often come out when you least expect it. If you allow your child to decide when to tell you about his or her day, you may find a few nuggets of information emerging at bedtime, after the bedtime story, or in the car at a random moment.

And then there are the stealth methods: if you really want to know how things are going you can always e-mail the teacher, or even better, become the class parent.

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