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How Was School Today?

Talking Effectively About Your Child's School Day

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Man and his son with schoolbag
Fabrice LEROUGE/ONOKY/Getty Images
One of our children (I would not dare to name names, of course) had to be one of the most distracted and disorganized students in his middle school years. Whenever we would ask him, "How was school today?", the answer was always the same.

"Fine."

But when we checked grades online or went to parent-teacher conference, we had an entirely different view of his school days. Assignments were not turned in on time, and while he did well generally on tests, his homework dragged his grades down. We also found out from teachers that while his assignments left a lot to be desired, he was Mr. Social in his classes and often used his sense of humor to disarm the teacher and other students. So his days were much more than just "fine."

So over the years of working with our children and their school days, we learned that asking how school went today was probably the least effective way of finding out what was happening at school and how we could help if there were problems. We have found a number of other approaches to be much more effective at getting to the bottom of the school day experience.

Greet first, ask later. We discovered that our kids got defensive when we asked them right after school about school. Later in life, we discovered that the entire topic made them feel a little intimidated because failure was more frequent than success in their minds during the school day. So we learned to just greet and chat about other things to get them a little more relaxed before we talked about school specifically.

Listen first, and see what happens. Often, after the greeting and the visiting, we did not even have to ask the question about school. We found that the conversations were always better when the kids brought up the subject. Usually, when the homework started following an after-school treat, they would say something like, "Can you get me on the Internet? I need some information about microbes." That led us into a discussion about their science class that day. Natural conversations about school are usually better than forced ones.

Talk about your day first. Often, those natural conversations about school would happen after their mom or I shared something about our day. Maybe a joke someone told at lunch or an interesting bit of current event news would stimulate a conversation about something at school.

Ask direct questions. Rather than asking, "What did you do at school today?" you should consider asking some specific questions that will give you specific information you want. Think about questions like:

  • What happened at school today that was fun?
  • What did you like best about your school day today?
  • What did Mrs. Baker talk about in your history class?
  • What sport did you play today in P.E?
  • Who did you sit with at lunch today?

Use the backpack as a conversation starter. With our distracted middle school child, we found that going through his backpack with him every day after school really helped him focus. We could find the little notes from teachers with assignments on them, as well as tests and homework assignments returned with grades on them. The backpack became the conversation piece and we learned a lot about his day. And then we could ask questions that would help him remember what assignments he had and to turn them in the next class period.

Recognize and respect your child's learning style. Educators teach us that children have three main learning styles. Some are auditory learners who learn best by hearing. Others are visual learners, who learn best by reading or seeing something. Others are tactile learners; these children learn best by doing. So chatting about school with a tactile learner might be challenging. Instead, you might ask them to draw something that they learned in school today. Or a visual learner might do better writing an outline of their school day than they would talking about it.

Help solve; don't just prescribe. When you child does talk with you about school day challenges, listen and ask questions to help guide their thinking and problem solving skills. If you just tell them the solution, they won't necessarily buy into it (and thus probably won't do it) and they will not learn to solve problems without you. Rather than say, "What I would do with Mrs. Baker is to get her to tell the other kids in class to be quiet so you could listen better," try asking questions like, "What do you think would make a difference in keeping the kids quieter during class?"

As you communicate more effectively with your child after school about their school day, you will learn more and be able to better help them with their challenges. And they will become better students along the way.

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