Think back to your own childhood – how enthusiastically did you answer the question, “How was school today?”
If you usually answered something like, “Fine,” you may be prepared for how tricky it can be to get some young children to open up about what they do on days when they’re not spending time with their families. Plenty of toddlers and young children love to talk about everything they’ve done since they saw their parents last, but many others can be a little more unwilling to share.
The importance of talking about the day
For one thing, parents – parents who are starting their toddlers in daycare or preschool for the first time, and parents whose little ones are only just starting to be verbal enough to really share what they do when they’re away from home, even if they’ve been spending time in daycare for most of their lives – are curious. For so much of Baby’s life, you’ve got a starring role, but for the parts when you’re away from them, you don’t even get to watch the reruns.
More than that, though, talking about your day with Baby is a great habit to get into now, so that you’ll already have it as a part of your family’s routine as they get older, and starts to spend more and more time away from you.
Tips for getting started
If Baby doesn’t launch into a detailed description of everything they're done since they saw you last the second you ask them, there are a few different possible reasons, starting with the fact that they may not have mastered organizing the memory of the day in a way that’s easy for them to tell you about, and ending with the fact that they may be all out of social energy at the end of a long day.
- Start with a bang: If you’re picking Baby up, start with an enthusiastic greeting, not a question. Saying hello, and letting them know you missed them can set the tone, and can keep the question you do end up asking from sounding prying, or from putting them on the spot.
- Lead by example: Talking to Baby about your own day can be a more effective way of getting them to talk about theirs than just straight-out asking. Not only does it show them that sharing goes both ways, and that you trust them the way you’re asking them to trust you, but it also gives them a model for talking about the day, and the way this kind of storytelling should sound.
- Do your homework: Knowing the schedule at Baby’s school or daycare can give you an idea of what to ask them about – specific questions can jog their memory, and may prompt them to give you more specific answers.
- Follow the leader: Let Baby lead the conversation once it gets started, rather than keeping on directing it with more questions. Baby may not be interested in the same parts of the day as the ones you want to hear about, but hearing which parts stuck in their mind can tell you even more about what they are thinking and feeling than any specific question you could ask.
- Freeze!: Give Baby a little space when they first get back from daycare, preschool, a playdate, or even grandma’s house, especially if they are quiet, or hasn’t jumped into telling you about their day when you’ve asked them about their day in the past. Socializing can be stressful for toddlers, and can take a lot of energy, even when they have a great time. Your little one may need a little time to regroup, wind down, or just be quiet, before they're ready to talk to you.
- Question your questions: Depending on how asking Baby about their day has gone in the past, it may be time to rethink your questioning style. Open-ended questions are more likely to get a longer, or more interesting, answer than yes or no questions. Very specific questions (as opposed to the more general, “how was your day?”) can help young children organize the way they think about their day. On the other hand, some children can take very specific questions as nosiness or prying, especially as they get older. In the end, the best way to approach asking questions is to take your cues from your little one. If one way of asking about their day doesn’t work, try something else until you find something that sticks.
- Make the time: Make specific space in your day to talk and connect, whether it’s over dinner, a snack, in the car on the way home, or snuggled up and chatting as part of winding down before bed.
- Use props: Asking questions about any art, worksheets, or other things your toddler may have brought home is a great way to get the conversation going. Asking about objects is a good way to spark a young child’s memory, and it often means bringing up something they're interested in talking about, which they might have already opened the conversation about by showing it to you.
- Wait before jumping to the rescue: If Baby tells you about something hard, or something that made them sad, it may make you even more upset than they are, and may make you want to fix the problem right away. Of course, if something seems especially serious, or happens often, you may need to step in, but in general, for small issues, over-reacting may make your child less willing to share, if they see you getting upset about it, and trying to solve a problem for them may make them less likely to problem-solve on their own. Instead, it may be more helpful to talk to them about how they feel, how they think anyone else who’s involved might feel, and about some of the things they might have thought about doing.
Sharing what you’ve been thinking and feeling can be tricky even when you’re not a toddler anymore, so don’t be surprised if it takes Baby a little while to get the hang of this kind of conversation. Once they do, though, it can be a great part of your family’s routine.
- Sara Ackerman. “Want your kids to tell you about their day? Instead of asking questions, try this.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, September 27 2017. Retrieved August 29 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/09/27/want-your-kids-to-tell-you-about-their-day-instead-of-asking-questions-try-this/?utm_term=.b4a792ac1d0e#comments.
- Sherry Artemenko. “Tips To Get Your Child To Talk About Her School Day.” Parents’ Choice. Parents’ Choice. Retrieved August 29 2017. http://www.parents-choice.org/article.cfm?art_id=357.
- “Talking Strategies.” PBS. PBS. Retrieved August 29 2017. http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/talking-with-kids-about-school/talking-strategies/.