When kids get home from school, day or overnight camps, friends' houses or other places sans parents, it's common for parents to ask if they had fun or "how was your day?" The answers often come as short answers like "fine" or a yes or no.
So how can you really get your kid talking so you can better know what's going on in their life?
1. Don't wait to get home — ask questions in the car
As you're driving kids to or from school or a friend's house, that's when kids are more likely to open up and talk to their parents. Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, suggests that kids are more likely to answer questions that "in an unexpected (and confined) context."
No, car rides and talking are nothing new, but this situation offers fewer distractions and no eye contact necessary. It's easier to open up about real-life stuff when the pressure is less.
2. Don't ask questions with one word answers
Dr. Markham says to ask focused questions. Be specific. Broad questions get broad answers. Their school days are about six or seven hours long, they're tired, perhaps hungry, and have been working hard all day. By giving a specific focus to your question, it's much easier for them to answer in specifics.
Try asking what the best or worse thing from their day was. Ask who they played with on the playground or sat with at lunch. Ask what their favorite school subject or extra activity is and why. These questions and answers will give insights into what's happening with your child- how school or socializing is going for them, what they're interested in and what kind of friends they have.
3. Observe your child
Kids won't always easily open up. Dr. Markham offers this advice: "If your child isn't open to talking, make an observation about what they told you, and wonder aloud about it: 'You look tired. I wonder if school wore you out today.' 'That sounds like a tough situation. I wonder what you could do now. I wonder if there's some way to make this better.'"
These are simple icebreakers that a reluctant child may be more willing to open up to. Sometimes a gentle push into the conversation can help a lot. Since you've already engaged them and noticed a glimpse into what's going on, it becomes much easier for your child to continue the conversation.
4. Watch your tone: don't lecture or overreact
Sometimes children may just need to talk through their problems, rather than get lectured at. If there is a real problem, you can give some support to help them solve their own problem. You can ask how they feel about a certain situation and what they plan to do next or how they would like to fix it. Allowing them to find their own solution helps them feel more confident in their abilities to figure it out on their own.
Also, as we gently guide our children through hard situations or listen intently as they talk, they feel validated. They know their feelings are important; they know they are important.
5. Listen and repeat
Life gets so busy sometimes that we only half listen to someone talking to us. This leads the other person to not feel valued. We so often need a kind, listening ear.
Kids need to know we hear them. Dr. Markham said, "Acknowledge their words by repeating them and acknowledge the emotions they are expressing by resonating in your response. If your child says, 'I hate that teacher,' you don't have to agree. Instead say, 'It sounds like you're pretty mad at Ms. Jones.'"
Don't try to problem-solve. They want and need to find their own solution. Let them talk through it and acknowledge what they say. We often solve our own problems while we talk it out.
If you don't drive your kids to or from activities or school, find other times or places that will work. Driving to the grocery store, going for a walk or sitting on a porch swing together can work too. At first, conversation may be more difficult, but as you do it regularly, your parent-child relationship will grow.