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Six Ways to Start After-School Conversations

“How was school today?”

“Fine.”

“OK.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you didn’t even qualify for a one-word answer and just got a shrug. Ouch. Before retreating to a dark place with your favorite adult beverage, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, you’re far from the first parent or guardian to get the cold shoulder. And, secondly, a well-timed question or different approach to communication can make all the difference.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to effectively communicating with kids (and, let’s be honest, adults either), there are a couple of tactics you can try to move beyond the short answers. Here’s where to start:

Delay the Talk

Do you like being bombarded with questions the minute you walk in the door after a long day? Didn’t think so. Kids need time to relax their brains, same as you. Give them time to grab a snack, get some screen time, and unwind.

Set the Example 

What do you talk about when someone asks about your day? Relating a funny story or a frustration at work or home gives your kids an idea of what you’re expecting them to talk about.

Let them Talk

Bite back the urge to jump in when your kids present you with a problem or a frustration. Yes, you can see a solution or a great piece of advice that would fix everything. But sometimes venting is just venting for the sake of letting off steam. Wait for your kid to ask for advice or for a natural pause in the conversation before offering your viewpoint or comforting word.

Go Beyond Talk

Each child expresses himself or herself differently. You might have a Chatty Kathy that’s going to tell you way more than you need to know. Or you have the introspective kid that internalizes everything. Either way, a comforting hug or spending some quality time playing a game carries as much value as a heart-to-heart.

Find Natural Openings

Ease the on-the-spot pressure of spilling everything that happened in a given day by playing or working alongside your kids. A face-to-face convo has its benefits, but talking can feel more natural when your hands are busy washing dishes, throwing the ball, or sweeping the garage.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

“How was your day?” is a softball question that can easily be answered with a word or two. Choose specific questions that are harder to bat away. Some examples: “What made you laugh today?” “What are you studying in Math/History/Science?” “What did you do with your friends today?” Heck, even “What was for lunch?” could be the key to unlocking a conversation.

Again, there’s no blanket solution to moving beyond the one-word answer. But experiment with what works best for your individual needs and scrap what doesn’t. With a little practice (and maybe some luck), you’ll be moving beyond the shrug in no time.

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