Such a large part of our child’s day is obscured from us. We love them and miss them and want to connect. Ideally, we’d like to know as much as possible about their experiences, what they learned, how they feel about their teachers, what their social interactions looked like. Do the shrugged shoulders or one-word answers indicate he’s feeling hopeless? Discouraged? Distressed? Helpless? Demoralized? Despairing? How will we know if there’s a problem?

Many parents lament over the lack of meaningful responses when asking children about the school day, which typically goes something like this:

“How was school today?”

“Fine.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

Of course, it’s unlikely every day is fine, and more likely that very few are all good. It’s also unlikely the day required nothing from our child, devoid of any activities or expectations. So how do we tease out the information about the school day experiences we need to hear? Is it that we require reassurance our child is thriving? We tend to overlook all the school day actually requires of our child in energy and attention. Having managed to navigate the pressures throughout the day, the majority of children want to leave the school day behind them, not relive the experience.

School is often stressful in many ways: for young children, temperamentally slow-to-warm, the demands of fitting in and complying with expectations can be burdensome. For children struggling with separation from parents and home, the adjustment exacts tremendous pressure. With entry into middle school, days become more stressful and demanding. Teens are more likely to enjoy close peer socializing during the day, although the bigger part of their day brings rigorous requirements. Somehow, when our children are home again, we expect them to rebound, revisiting their school experiences with us. It’s more productive to try sharing their lens, acknowledging we appreciate the exhausting demands of their day.



After asking, “How was school?” and receiving “Fine” or grunts, our best intentions then compel us to ask more questions: “Did something bad happen?” “Why don’t you want to talk about it?” “Do you have much homework?” “Are you getting along with your teachers?” “Who are the kids you like the most?” “Did you speak to your teacher about that lost assignment?” And so on ... all questions from which children hope to escape. If parents expect to have a lively conversation, with their child sharing enthusiastic anecdotes about his/her experiences, it’s very likely to have a disappointing outcome.

You might try something like: “Now that you’re out of school, I get that you’re tired and probably don’t want to revisit how your day was. I’d love to hear anything you might want to share, the best parts and the worst parts. It’s up to you, if and when you want to do that.” Sometimes, a simple: “Would you like a hug?” is how our child might want to connect.

When some ninth- and tenth-graders were asked what they wish their parents would do differently, it was that they don’t want them to ask questions about their school day. Both parents and children, even adolescents, want connection, although it looks different depending on the perspective. The parent’s angle is distorted by expectations, and of course, the quality of our relationship with our child/adolescent matters. Given adolescence is a time when agendas may clash, it’s helpful for us to abandon our agenda and simply listen to theirs. 

An example of connective communication:

Student: “School sucks! I hate math. The work is just too hard.” 

Parent: “Wow, that stinks. Sounds like math is really tough and there’s too much work. I wonder if there’s any way I can be helpful. If you’d just like to vent, I’m here to listen.” 

No criticism, no questions, no judgment, and no advice. It opens the door for more talking, if our child is so inclined. For some, just knowing we hear the complaint and understand is sufficient, without any more discussion. 

The next time you want to ask your child, “How was school?,” consider trying a different approach. Slip into his/her shoes, to appreciate that leaving the day behind may be the best antidote for “cleaning the slate,” and emptying the day’s “scorecard.” 

Please send me your questions.