It’s the refrain heard round the world every afternoon or early evening. Parents everywhere are asking, “How was school?” And their children are responding, “Fine,” much more concerned with procuring a snack and a good TV show than chatting about their day.
We, the parents, try to get creative. We switch it up. We phrase our questions in a way that doesn’t allow for a one-word, noncommittal answer. I occasionally like to ask my son, who has hated his weekly music class since the first week of kindergarten, “How annoying was music today?” He vents about the class for a few minutes and then usually wraps up with an anecdote about something silly or funny that happened in the class, so maybe it wasn’t too bad. My husband, on the other hand, usually opts for one of his two standbys: “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” or “Tell me something fun that happened.”
They do see through this, though. They know exactly what you’re doing and they’re going to play along less and less as they get older. But writer Joanna Goddard may have hit on the one question they really do want to answer—and might already be thinking about anyway. And, as a bonus, it could give you insight into their classroom and social dynamics.
That question is: “Who got in trouble today?”
My kids LOVE talking about this. It’s exciting! It’s dramatic! It leads to more stories! Often the answer is themselves for being silly (Anton calls himself a “jokemaster”) or their friends for funny reasons. It also opens the door to talking about empathy and feelings. The question isn’t something you’d want to ask all the time, of course, but when you’re desperate, it delivers.
She’s right. In fact, my son will often tell me this even without my prompting. Kids want to talk about who tattled on whom, who got caught with a stack of forbidden Pokémon cards, or even who should have gotten in trouble but somehow got away with being a little too physical at recess or using a few choice words at the lunch table.
They’re figuring out how to get along with each other, how to control all those impulses and how to deal with the little injustices of life.
One thing to be aware of, though, as some commenters on Goddard’s piece pointed out, is that some kids get labelled as the “bad kid” for reasons outside of their control. They may have a diagnosis or experienced trauma that your child is unaware of. If the answers you’re hearing go beyond silliness or always seem to centre around the same one or two kids, that can also be an opportunity to talk about empathy and how we never completely know what someone else is going through.
And you might even soften her question to something like, “Who was struggling today?,” which can make the conversation feel less gossipy and more caring while still tackling a topic they actually want to talk about.
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