Getting the Conversation Rolling
We all get it: the dreaded “fine” response.
When you ask, “How was your day, sweetie?” you are not hoping for a quick grunt of approval, are you? In your head do you imagine a thoughtful response spilling out of your student that gives you insight into her school day and the life she leads for the six hours you are apart. Many parents do. However, instead of the amazing, thought provoking conversation, we often hear one word responses of “fine” or “good.” Yet it’s important to know more. It’s important to have information to get a complete picture of who your child is when they play the role of student.
So how do we go from the one word answers to getting the information you want? It’s all about the questions you ask.
Before we even get into the idea of questioning, let’s talk about the conversation in general. When we talk to our children about their lives, it can seem like a rote every day sort of event that just happens between parent and child. It is much more than that. Talking with your child teaches them how to have a conversation. This will carry over into their conversations with others, in and out of school. It will increase their literacy skills as well.
Just by talking to your children you are introducing them to new vocabulary and you are teaching them about the structures of dialogue. You are letting them practice stretching their ideas, which will help when they are writing. Academics aside, talking and listening to your children shows them you care. It gives them a sense of importance and priority. It is another way to let your kids know they were missed, they were thought about, and they are loved.
So, how can we start those conversations? Questioning is the key to conversations with your child. The questions you choose to ask, or not ask, are just as important as having the conversation itself. The questions you pick need to be open ended. The yes/no questions will end right away with a yes/no answer. Did you have a good day? Yes. Conversation over. It’s your job to guide them to start the conversation.
Here are some of my go to favorite conversation starters:
- What was one thing that happened today that made you happy? (or sad, excited, etc.)
- Tell me about what you did in _____ (reading, gym, art etc) class today.
- Tell me about something you did today that would make me proud (or made you proud of yourself!)
- What was the best part of recess today? (Or any subject they enjoy).
These types of questions will stop your student from being able to give you the one word answer and they are open enough to get them thinking. They will be able to pick what was important to them and share that with you.
Sometimes I will say, “What did you learn today?” That’s another mistake. I always get the same answer, “nothing.” Nothing? NOTHING?! Now, I am a teacher, and if I sat around all day and taught the kids nothing, I’d be out of a job. So I’m pretty sure my child did in fact learn something. Or at least something was taught to the class. Therefore, our questions have to be more direct. Don’t give them the opportunity to say nothing. The “what did you learn today” type of question is too vague. Think about how you respond to the, “How was your day” line? I often say fine because it is the quick and easy answer.
Here are some questions that will dig a little deeper and get the conversations flowing:
- What did you work on today in science (math, writing etc)?
- Tell me about something that you never knew until today.
- Tell me about the next chapter in the book you’re reading.
- How did you show kindness to someone today?
The most important part of the questioning then comes from you listening and responding. Just like you don’t want the one word answer, don’t give them a one word response. Process what they’ve said and reply with something else open ended that will continue the conversation. “Oh, you got to try drums in music class today? That’s exciting. How did it feel to play something so different?”
Remember, it’s all about getting them to talk and having some quality interactions with your little loved one. There are no wrong things to say or ask. A great conversation might not happen every time even if you ask the right question. Sometimes my daughter will gab all the way home with just one question and other times she will tell me I ask too many questions and just want to have a quiet car ride. It happens, we all have our days, the important part is that I’m going to ask again tomorrow.