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. ;)