10 Ways to Get Kids to Open Up About Their Day, According to Lifehacker Readers

10 Ways to Get Kids to Open Up About Their Day, According to Lifehacker Readers
Illustration: Vicky Leta

Sometimes talking with our children about their school day is akin to a dentist pulling a crocodile’s teeth: It’s lengthy, it’s risky, and it doesn’t seem to benefit either party. But we know it’s important to connect with our kids about their day, to keep a pulse on any challenges in school and the quality of their friendships. We detailed our own experiences and suggestions recently, and the topic resonated with readers, who offered up their own advice for getting kids to open up.

We’ve tested and compiled several of our favourites for you. Here’s how you said parents can try to get their kids to talk about their day.

“So, who got in trouble today?”

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No matter your child’s age, they can’t resist sharing a little bit of gossip now and again. “Tell me who got in trouble today” may seem like a humorous request at first glance, but it’s a conversation starter for Kinja user Victor Torres, and it’s surprising enough to entice even the most tight-lipped kid. (And it’s an old favourite tactic of ours.)

With lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ and exaggerated head-shaking makes them feel like you are loving their stories, and they just want to spill about everything else they remember from the day.

Soon you learn the names of the troublemakers, and you can then start with, “What did Joe/Jane do today?”

Ask them about their homework

Photo: Red Stock, Shutterstock Photo: Red Stock, Shutterstock

If you want to talk about what your kid is learning about in school, the above question is a great way to get them to open up without the old eye-roller, “So, what did you learn today?” Kinja user jeanlucpickerd also recommends asking a follow-up question — but be warned that you may have to take a more active role in helping with your child’s studies.

“What homework do you have to do?” would inform you what they are learning about and “What would you like to do tonight after you finish that homework?” will inform you if they are struggling with some class because of a tough assignment AND if they do have some time, you might be able to do something with them that they enjoy doing.

Don’t blab about anything your kids tell you

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Trust is the key to making any relationship stronger, including that of a parent and child. Kinja user NitroNick shared the story of how he sadly learned never to tell his mother anything again.

I vividly remember freshman year, our friend group was carpooling. I told my mother I had a crush on a girl in confidence privately…and what does she do? Immediately bring it up in front of my entire friend group in the carpool home and spill my beans to everyone in my social circle. I learned NEVER TELL MUM ANYTHING EVER AGAIN.

Ask about one good thing (and one not-so-good thing)

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Kinja user Bubarubu says her sixth-grader is pretty good at recapping their day because they laid a good foundation back when first grade started.

I would ask her to tell me one good thing about the day, one thing that could have been better, and about one person she talked with or one thing she did for someone else. In 2nd grade, I made it 2 of everything, and so on. It was an easy way to give some structure to the questions and sort of ratchet up what I was asking as she got older. She knew what the conversation would be in the car on the way home, and we could jump off from there with some questions.

Be supportive

Photo: Motortion Films, Shutterstock Photo: Motortion Films, Shutterstock

If asking about school feels like an interrogation, chances are kids are going to shut down when their parents start ratcheting up the pressure to answer their questions. Kinja user chaos2992 says that by parents being positive in the questions they ask and supportive of the answers they give, kids are more likely to open up about their day.

Kids who DO open up do so because their parents are supportive and positive regardless of what they say. [There’s] a difference [between] reward vs. punishment. If you make talking about their day rewarding, they’ll talk. If you make it a punishment, they’ll shut down. Simple.

Compare notes with another parent

Photo: Sam Wordley, Shutterstock Photo: Sam Wordley, Shutterstock

Sometimes it helps to have a friend on the inside to help keep track of your son or daughter at school. For Kinja user bethwcnc, she receives her intel on their child from her friend’s daughter. But this strategy is a win-win for both parents.

A friend has a daughter in the same class as mine. So I ask how Essie’s day went, and at the same time Essie’s mum is asking about my kiddo’s (and then we compare notes later haha)

This usually breaks the ice for them to talk about their own experiences. They hate to talk about themselves, but they love reporting on other kids…

Don’t bombard them

Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Parents sometimes forget that school can be as stressful as a day at the office, which means that, like you, kids need some time to decompress before they open up. Dorothy on Facebook suggests waiting until everyone is home and free of distractions before asking your child about their day.

They’ll talk about their day in their own time, not straight after getting into the car. Don’t bombard them. Eat together at the table. It’s the best way to catch up. Conversation flows. (No mobile phones!!)

Start with the fun stuff

Photo: FamVeld, Shutterstock Photo: FamVeld, Shutterstock

“How was your day,” and “What are you learning about?” are some classic go-to questions we all lean on — but they’re boring. Kids don’t care about social studies; they care about what they had for lunch, what new game they played at recess, and the silly new song they’re learning in music class. Brigitte from Facebook says that when you ask children about the fun stuff first, kids are more likely to open up about the dull or bothersome moments of their day.

“It’s a better start to a conversation, and they are much more interested in telling you than all the boring school stuff.”

Opt for the open-ended question

Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Ask a “yes” or “no” question, and you’re likely to get a “yes” or “no” answer. If you want them to elaborate at all, you’re better off reaching for an open-ended question, as Louise suggests on Facebook.

I was told once its the way you ask the question. Dont ask a question that only has a yes or no answer. Ask an open ended question. One where they have to go into a little more detail. (How was your day? Good. Did you play with Billy today? Yes.)

Instead [try]: What was the best thing about your day today? Who did you play with today?Etc! Works for me!

Or sometimes… just let them be.

Photo: wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock Photo: wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock

You want to keep a pulse on what is happening in your kid’s life, you want to be there for them, be involved, and be supportive. But sometimes, they’re just exhausted, and they don’t feel like chatting, and no amount of cute tricks will change that. On those days, follow Facebook-commenter Laura’s advice:

Leave them alone… they’re knackered.

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