“What did you do in school today?”
How many times have you asked that question, only to be greeted with a blank stare or stony silence? You know something happened, but the lack of information has planted seeds of doubt in your mind, and now you need confirmation that the day went well.
The temptation is to play a guessing game using questions that only require a one-word answer, “Did you paint?” “Did you play soccer in gym again?” “Was Spanish fun?” These are reasonable, non-threatening questions. But just as seeds of doubt were planted in your mind when your child told you that he did “nothing,” you could be planting seeds by asking questions that feel like they are leading down a certain path.
“Did you paint?” can imply to a child that you wanted him to paint. The implication is fairly neutral, but if the answer is “no,” you can be tempted to follow up with, “Were you bored?” That can lead to “You didn’t do anything?” or even worse, “Were you sad?” There, you‘ve planted seeds that will lead any child to think hard for the answer you want, instead of the answer that paints a truer picture. In the enjoyment of science class, she may have forgotten that she only had a short turn on the easel before it was time for lunch, but now that you mention it … yes, school was “sad.”
Getting information from young children (great practice for adolescence when the stakes are a lot higher) is a delicate operation. It requires a sincere effort not to plant seeds that address your own expectations and seeds that leave something behind in the procedure. If you really want the truth, and nothing but the truth, try not to lead the witness.
Instead of interrogating your child or playing guessing games, use the trick of statements that invite a reaction. “You must have had fun in art, I can see a little green in your hair.” It’s positive, it invites a positive reaction, and it should spark a memory about the day.
Talking about an event from your own day can also get things started. It provides a model for sharing and encourages children to relate their own experiences to yours. “I talked to Aunt Chris about your school play today.” Children often jump in when their memories have been sparked — often with their thoughts going off in so many different directions that you can’t remember where the conversation started.
Another way to get more from your child is to read the information sent to you by the teachers and the school. Staying abreast of planned events gives you tidbits you can bring into your conversations with your child. Know which days the class has gym and music and which days they have science or art. Know when a special assembly is scheduled — and try to attend. Lunch or snack and stories should happen every day, so open-ended questions about what your child talked about at snack or what happened in the book at story time will invite details and hopefully, spark reminders of connected events.
Don’t be afraid of the silence that brings new things to mind and allows for processing events and emotions. Some children will open up on the car ride home, but that can also be a necessary down-time at the end of a busy day. And when we’re tired and cranky, we’re less likely to talk with animation about the things we enjoyed.
Sometimes the best information comes out at bedtime when children get the idea that talking will postpone lights out. And when you’re snuggled in conversation, is that always a bad thing?