How was school today?

By Psychologist Alex Almendingen

Have you ever asked your child how their day was at school, only to be met with radio silence? Or the shortest response possible, such as “okay” or “it was fine”? Such responses can be difficult for us as parents to sit with as we long to know about the experiences our child had throughout the day – what they learned in class, any uplifts they experienced, who they spent time with at school, and any challenges they may have encountered or overcome.

Why is it hard for some kids to talk about school?

For starters, the question “how was school today?” is a big one to answer! While some kids enjoy talking about their school day, for some it can feel like pulling teeth. While a young person may want to say “I had so many things going on today in class and a bunch of stuff also happened in the yard with some of my friends as well, but I have no idea where to start with all this”, it can feel much easier to say, “Yeah, today was okay”. Even on a typical day at school, young people can face a wide range of experiences and emotions that range from joyful highs (e.g., making a new friend) and challenging lows (e.g., disputes with peers). Couple this with the large number of demands young people may face, having to remember, mentally relive, and recall their day can be a big ask.

Benefits of talking about school

Regularly exploring with your child about their day at school can help show them that you’re interested in how they are going and in their experiences. Talking about their day can boost their connection with you. Further, it can also help them process the many emotion-rich experiences that emerge through the academic and social endeavours of attending school. Such conversations can also give you insights into your child’s difficulties, how they address challenges at school, and any areas for additional support they may need.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Here are some tips that may help young people start to share a bit more about their school day:

  • Set the scene: Take the time to connect with your child before asking about their day. This may involve hugs, having a laugh together, doing something fun, or sharing a snack. Aim to create a calm and conversation-inviting atmosphere that can help your child feel at ease prior to recalling the day’s events.
  • Getting specific: Rather than posing general, all-encompassing questions (e.g., how was school today?), learn some details about their school life (e.g., names of friends/teachers, weekly class schedule, upcoming or current class projects) and have a go at more targeted questions that enquire about:

Activities they did (e.g., which class did you like most/least, what was it about your teacher that made it easy/hard for you to learn or finish that task, did you end up playing your favourite sport during PE?);

Who they spent time with (e.g., who made you laugh today, what do you like most about your friends, who did you talk to most today); and

Emotions they felt (e.g., what was the silliest thing that happened today, did anyone at school cry today, if you could change anything that happened at school today what would you change?).

  • Use observations: From a young person’s perspective, questions that seemingly come out of the blue can be tricky to answer. Instead, use what you’ve seen or noticed as prompts (e.g., I saw you running over to that group of kids after I dropped you off at school this morning, what did you end up playing with them?)
  • Sharing personal experiences: Try telling your child about your day through light and casual conversation, as well as discussing specific things that happened. This can help young people develop a greater understanding around how to talk about their own day. Sharing your own past school experiences (e.g., favourite subjects or games to play during recess, who your close friends were) can also help prompt young people to share their own experiences.

So if that age-old parent question fails time and again to get a chat started, I encourage you to give some of these alternate approaches a try! They may be just the thing to create a space for some big and important conversations that can help our children reconnect with us after a long day at school.

Alex is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Within school-based and public mental health settings, Alex has experience in conducting comprehensive mental health assessments and delivering evidence-based psychological therapy for young people and adolescents with a range of behavioural, emotional, psychosocial, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Alex is also committed to strengthening the confidence and capacity of caregivers to support their children’s development and overall wellbeing. Through his person-centred, empathic, and collaborative approach, Alex is dedicated to building and maintaining a trusting, safe, and supportive therapeutic environment for all his clients and their families to create lasting positive changes.

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