The van door glides open and the kids tumble in. Your knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Hey, kids! How was your day?”
Typical response: “Good.”
“Yea? Tell me about it!”
“I don’t know.”
Really? You don’t know? You were out of my presence for seven hours and the best you can come up with is “good” and “I don’t know?”
Welcome to the car ride home.
We did the dance Monday afternoon after the start of the new school year. Caitlyn just started her last year in elementary school (sniff) and Nick has a “boy teacher” for the first time ever, something he’d been hoping for all summer long. Surely they had oceans of juicy details, but all I got was “fine” and “I don’t know.”
My husband is the absolute master at getting the kids to open up, and watching him has taught me two valuable principles.
Timing is everything.
The problem with pummeling the kids with questions right when they get in the car is this—it’s forcing them to think, something they have been doing almost since they crawled out of bed and wiped the sleep from their eyes. Give them some time to unwind, play, and have a snack. Then ask the questions around the dinner table so everyone can be a part of the conversation.
Ask detail-specific, open-ended questions.
In under five minutes, Mike had the kids giving a play-by-play description of their day, so I picked my favorite six questions just for you.
- What was the first thing your teacher had you do?
Forcing the children to think back to the beginning of their day triggered other points of interest and led to some side discussions. For example, Nick had to write about our summer vacation. That prompted both kids to rehash a favorite memory of our time on the Texas coast.
- What was your favorite part of the day?
“I don’t know” or “nothing” are not viable answers. If the child can’t think of a favorite, Mike usually follows it up with a gentle, “Did you have a worst moment you want to talk about?”
- What did you and your friends talk about at lunch?
Caitlyn eagerly spilled the beans on her best friend’s crush, and then we learned something-having-to-do-with-something about Minecraft that Nick was very excited about, and that all his buddies had agreed to meet in his “realm” on Saturday (no electronics during the week). If you don’t have a nine- or ten-year-old boy, this will make no sense. Don’t panic.
- What did you and your friends do at recess?
This usually falls down gender lines. The girls flock toward the swings and the boys play soccer or kickball.
- Tell me something that made you laugh.
Ok, this was my favorite moment of the entire dinner. As soon as Mike asked the question, Nick started giggling the way little boys do when they’re about to share some bathroom humor. Sure enough, he didn’t disappoint.
“My funniest thing was,” Nick started, laughing so hard he could barely get the words out, “was when Darren (name changed) tooted in front of the whole class!”
Caitlyn laughed so hard she nearly choked, and when Mike asked her the same question, she replied, “My funniest was when Nick told us Darren tooted!”
- What made you feel worried or sad?
Saving this question for last is brilliant, because if anything happened, you can take some time and process through it with your child. Nick was worried because his teacher seemed “really hard,” which translated to “no-nonsense.” Caitlyn wished that more of her friends were in her class.
Sitting around the table together was just one more sweet reminder that, in today’s age of distraction and electronic relationships, the dinner table must remain a sacred space where real communication takes place.
Got other questions that work for you? Post them in the comments and let’s discuss!