Asking a child about their day can be like getting blood out of a stone! So what are parents to do when they want to hear about their child's day but can't get them to tell them any more than a monosyllabic response?
As parents we are told all the time about the importance of keeping an open line of communication with our children- build a rapport from an early age where they can tell you about their fears, worries, excitement. So that when they are teenagers this rapport (may take a beating) but will still exist enough that they will come to you when life inevitably throws them a curve ball.
But as a parent, I know that this is so much easier said than done! My eldest is a talker... actually that's an understatement- she has, as her Grandad would say, 'enough jaw for a second row of teeth'. But even this little motor mouth, when asked about her day in the early days of starting preschool, would respond with either silence or that lovely complicated 'good' we frustrated parents hear all the time.
One night, after a typical post-school exchange with my preschooler, my husband arrived home after a bad day at work. He briefly told me about it and then asked 'How was your day?', I answered with 'Good' (which it wasn't exactly, it was long and exhausting and filled with the usual battles to get out of the house, in to the car seat, shoes on- you know the drill!)
And then it hit me! The light bulb literally went BING!... OMG My daughter's response that very afternoon wasn't an attempt at defiance but rather I had asked a very broad question at the end of a long day and a question that required an adult understanding of social assumptions.
Let me explain, as adults we know that when someone asks us 'how are you?', or 'how was your day?' we gauge who is asking us, as well as what the situation is and respond accordingly.
For example; the casual acquaintance I bump into at the supermarket I know is perhaps asking this question more out of a social grace than necessarily wanting to know a blow by blow of my day. Equally though, when my Mum asks me 'How was your day?' my adult brain understands that she perhaps does want to know some specifics of the occurrences of my day- anything that made me happy or sad etc. And in this same vain when my husband asks me 'How was your day?', I don't always answer with a (preschooleresque) 'Good' but I often do when it's been a long day and I just don't feel like going back over it or when I know he has had a long day and needs some wind down time, not a blow by blow.
Can you see how we can't expect our children to comprehend these social assumptions nor to be able to answer such a broad question at the end of what, for them, is a really long day?!
So my busy brain went a little further and I realised that if I wanted more out of my daughter, then I needed to reshape the question and not make it quite so broad for her to process.
The next day we started the 'Today I' game.
I no longer ask 'How was your day?', instead we play a game where we share our feelings and experiences from the day. I ask 'What was something that made you smile today?'- I can go first or the kids can, whoever is ready with an answer. The idea is that we each reflect on when we felt a certain way and what made us feel that way.
It has been a double blessing. One, I learn more about my child's day than I ever have before and two, I get to show my kids that I too have times in my day when I feel happy, sad, confused, frustrated, angry even. These are normal human emotions and helping children label and acknowledge them helps them to deal with these in their day-to-day life.
My eldest is often more interested in my responses, and asks extra questions around these, than answering herself. And we still have days when I get the monosyllabic 'kid special' but they are in the minority now. The majority of the time we share a lovely conversation.
Try it next time you pick the kids up from school or preschool. You might be pleasantly surprised at the information you find out... or perhaps (like me, at times) a little horrified : )