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My son's just started school, and it seems to be exceptionally difficult to get him to talk about what he did during the day. The responses are generally, "I don't know", or "I can't remember". Sometimes we have success engaging with him, but there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern to it. This seems to be not uncommon: teachers have told parents it is completely normal for children to do this, and other parents I know all tell similar stories.

Just to be clear, I'm not terribly concerned about it, I'm just naturally curious as to why this is considered common/normal (as in, is there an underlying reason for it), and what techniques are there to encourage children to reveal more about their day?

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    IMO, this is a learned skill; people, in general, are bad at explaining things. Trying to describe what happened over the last eight hours without any real guidance as to what highlights and details are important to your audience and without having taken mental (or written) notes for that purpose? That's hard. – user11971 Oct 9 '15 at 18:12
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    You are not alone. Neither of mine (14 f, 12 m) volunteer information. – copper.hat Oct 9 '15 at 22:48
  • @Hurkyl Very interesting point. Wonder if setting a task before going to school to try encourage him to try remember something specific would work. – Craig Oct 10 '15 at 9:03
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    Something that worked wonders for us, was to "play school" with our kids. During roleplay, they can be teacher and we'll be the kids... you learn a lot about how the teacher interacts with the class, and how the kids interact with eachother. Or sometimes she'll be the student, or her dolls are ... – Konerak Oct 22 '15 at 11:02
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Yeah, normal.

Some things that work in our family:

  • Appreciate that they're tired straight after school and might need some quiet time and space.

  • Ask them specific questions about things that you already know a bit about, e.g.

    • "What did Ms Smith think of your cat drawing?" (instead of "What did your teacher tell you today?")
    • "Did you play with Johnny today?" (instead of "Who did you play with today?")
    • "Oh it's a Friday, so did you have fishfingers for lunch today?" (instead of "What was for lunch today?")

This shows that you listened to them last time they told you about stuff, and it shows more specific (and therefore more believable) interest than a blanket "how was your day?", which can seem perfunctory, and so gets a perfunctory answer.

  • If they'd like to hear about it, tell them about your own day. When my kids are tired, sometimes they'd rather hear my voice, even if it's something they don't really know about or don't understand, then go to the effort of answering detailed questions about their own doings.

They're pretty interested in the adult world - and I'm trying to provide them with an example for them to copy of how to talk about the things that happen in our lives.... which things are considered important, things that I enjoyed and things that I had trouble with, and how I dealt with problems (if I did) and what I'd do differently next time. I feel that if I tell them about that kind of thing in relation to my life, then they'll be more willing to tell me about that kind of thing in relation to their life.

Sometimes we end up trading information: I tell them what I had for lunch and they immediately pipe up wanting to tell me what they had for lunch; I tell them about the best/worst thing that happened in my day and they immediately want me to know the best/worst thing that happened in their day. So I'm not actually asking any questions at all - this can work quite well.

  • "I don't want to tell you" is an ok reply. If they're just tired and they don't want to talk, then fair enough. If something happened that upset them and they don't want to relive those feelings by talking about it, then they get a hug anyway and we talk about it another time when they're feeling better.

You might find the classic book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" (Faber and Mazlich) useful.

Sometimes if I've taken them on a trip and we've left their mum at home, then on the way home we think about what things we'll tell mum about the trip: what did we each like best (eg dinosaurs, lunch), whether we want to go again, who do we know that would really like it, was it scary/exciting/interesting etc ... So I'm trying to give them some practice in summarising the salient details of a larger experience. Also, their mum actually wants to know how the trip went. ;)

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Things that worked for us:

  • Give the child a little time to relax after school, get a snack, etc. They may be more willing to talk after some down time.

  • Ask specific questions. For example, instead of "What did you do today?", which has a long list of items to recite, try something like "What was the best thing that happened today?" Still requires more than yes/no for an answer, but has one specific answer that could lead to more.

  • Make this a practice for everyone in the family. In our family, everyone (including parents) talks about how their day went, or something exciting that happened, over the dinner table. That gives the child a role model for sharing, and changes it from an interrogation to a conversation.

  • Number 2 has worked more for me, my kids don't really like me knowing too much about what they are doing in school; its like their world and they want to keep it. Letting them tell me what they want, works, and allows me to indirectly question them back to what I am concerned with. – MichaelF Oct 11 '15 at 12:13
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Only thing that has worked for my wife and I with our 5 year old daughter is mentioning specific things we know she did that day to jog her memory. Her teacher sends out regular emails (2-3 per week) with exactly what they're working on in class, and one period per day is that days' 'special' (outside of regular room, e.g. music, art, computer lab) so we can always ask her about how that particular class went that day.

I've found that once we jog her memory we open up quite a bit. But as someone pointed out in the comments above, its very difficult to answer general questions with no context. A 17 yr old can easily answer that question because he/she has an idea of the subtext: give me a list of some stuff you learned and let me know how your day was. All the more so because he/she has learned to expect the question: its pretty common small talk. Whereas the 5~6 year old may have no idea where to begin, even on questions that you (as an adult) may find more specific like 'what letters did you work on today?'.

Although the emailing is pretty common practice in the town I live in (all the elementary schools do this here) YMMV.

  • Wish our teacher gave information about what happened in class. We get a smiley face, a neutral face, or a frowney face each day. That is all. :| – neuronet Oct 11 '15 at 3:42
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    I volunteer in my kids classrooms as much as possible. This really gives me great insight that I doubt I would ever get from a conversation. If your child's teacher allows volunteers, take advantage of that great opportunity. I know all the kids in the class, how they behave, how the teacher treats them, etc. And I don't need to ask anyone. Even if you have to take time off of work occasionally, this is totally worth it. – Evan de la Cruz Oct 11 '15 at 4:33
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    @neuronet Can you contact the teacher? You may be able to work something out. But yeah, I moved to the community I live in specifically for the quality of the schools. – Jared Smith Oct 13 '15 at 16:12
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I think the most important thing is to treat them like you would treat anyone else you want to converse with. I think that is all about being a consistent good listener. Not judging them. And offering them energy by giving them full attention and genuine interest. Don't try to dictate what they tell you about. Don't interrogate them. There is a time for discipline and authority. But in this case it's really about being a friend. Finding common ground. And sharing stories because you know the other person will feel you.

For example, my 11 yr old daughter is not allowed to have a boyfriend. The other day she told me (I hope because of the trust we have built) that she has a boyfriend. I didn't punish her. I tried to focus on things that were positive to talk about and I tried to know as much as she was willing to share. In my opinion, any other approach would just mean that she would never tell me.

Edit: I realize things are not exactly the same with a younger child. But this trust relationship starts now. At the end of the day, everyone is their own person and people click and converse for whatever reasons they choose. And no one wants to be questioned. Even at five.

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