“How was your day?”
Most of the time, I ask out of sincerity. Sometimes, it’s a matter of routine. Regardless of the circumstance, I genuinely want to know about the ups and downs of my daughter’s school day.
So, if it is well-intentioned, why does this infamous question often produce an undesired response?
It’s easy to forget just how tiring school can be-even for this former teacher. Learning is a lot of fun, but maintaining good conduct for 6-7 hours is quite a feat! My daughter keeps it together for so long that when she gets home to her safe space, she’s just “done.” Her behavior changes, her emotions whirl, and exhaustion sets in. All too often, I’ve seen this shift, often referred to as After School Restraint Collapse, cause a simple inquiry like, “How was your day?” to result in a one-word answer, eye-roll, or silence.
In our house, reformatting the conversation has helped create a happier outcome. After school, I try to connect first and ask later. Physical touch is a huge comfort for my daughter, so regardless of her mood, I try to offer a hug or high five before heading inside to grab a snack. When she’s ready to talk, I start by sharing about my own day. Modeling is a huge piece of the puzzle. When she’s ready to engage, I ask something more specific than, “How was your day?”
Here are some of my favorite conversation starters.
- If you could sum up your day with one emoji, what would it be?
Instead of rating her day on a scale of 1-10 or specifically naming an emotion, my daughter recalls an emoji, something she finds relatable and unthreatening. I still get the information I’m looking for without having to interrogate.
- What made you or your teacher(s) laugh today?
My daughter views her teachers as celebrities. If one of them experienced a laugh-out-loud moment with the class, I’m bound to hear about it at home.
- Teach me something you learned at school.
It’s so easy to phrase this as a question, “What did you learn today?” but it often results in a response of “nothing” or “I don’t know.” Allowing my daughter to take on the role of teacher helps reinforce the skill while boosting her confidence. (It’s also an excellent way for me to learn something new!)
- Who did you connect with today?
Students interact with so many people throughout the school day. This question has helped generate new friendships while providing me with details about additional adult figures (aides, volunteers, student teachers, etc.) in my daughter’s life.
- Dinner table conversation games.
These simple activities encourage the participation of the whole family. (In full disclosure, our conversations often occur on the go, not necessarily around the dinner table.) High-Low-Buffalo is a family favorite, and I was recently introduced to Rose-Bud-Thorn. For more details, check out this segment.
Each school year brings adjustment and a new routine but refraining from asking, “How was your day?” has helped to alleviate the added emotion and frustration. Focusing on connection and incorporating novel questions has been an after-school game changer.