Want more than a one-syllable response? Use our tips and open-ended questions for different age groups to encourage kids and teens to talk about school
How to Get Your Kids to Open Up About School
Most parents know that asking a child “How was school today?” is a conversational dead-end. From kindergarten to high school (and even beyond), this question is unlikely to prompt more than a monosyllabic response like “fine,” “good,” or “okay”, followed by a shrug and total silence.
The trick to getting kids to open up about school is asking creative, open-ended questions tailored to their age group. Use these tips to start more meaningful conversations with children of every age.
Tips for Communicating with Children Successfully
Every kid is different, but there are a few pointers that can apply to most situations. Here are a few of our best practices for talking to kids and teens alike:
- Avoid yes or no questions. Nothing shuts down a conversation faster! Instead, ask open-ended questions that can help trigger a sustainable conversation.
- Memorize their class schedule. Younger kids who are still working on conversation skills may be shy or uncertain if a question is too vague, while many teens might try to avoid talking to adults. If you know what your child is working on each day in school, you can ask directly about their experiences in every class.
- Model open communication. Conversation is a two-way street. If you don’t chat openly about your own experiences every day, your kid probably won’t either. Be forthcoming about your own daily activities, including your work, interests, successes, challenges, and friends.
- Schedule regular times to talk. As kids become more independent, it’s increasingly important to carve out times during the week for dialogues. Having regularly scheduled family dinners, game nights or other specific times to reconnect—where cellphones and laptops stay out of sight—is one way to stay connected and give kids a routine they can rely on.
- Be resourceful. If your child brings home an art project or you find them reading a book or an article online, ask about it! Never miss these easy opportunities to foster meaningful connections.
Questions to Ask Grade Schoolers
In pre-K, kindergarten, and grade school, children are actively growing their communication skills. Keep questions relatively simple and friendly in tone. Some kids will shut down in the face of complex or confusing questions or emotions they don’t understand, so speak simply, directly, and with a smile.
Here are some open-ended questions to try asking grade schoolers:
- Who do you eat lunch with?
- What did you do during recess today?
- What made you laugh the hardest today?
- What’s the nicest thing you saw someone do?
- Did you feel mad or sad today? What made you feel that way?
- Did you draw, write, or build anything today? Describe it!
- What did you learn today that you didn’t know before?
Questions to Ask Middle Schoolers
Tweens enjoy more imaginative questions that engage their critical thinking skills and employ a little humor. Beyond asking about specific events or feelings, integrate some logic-based questions that require deductive reasoning or deeper thinking.
Here’s a mix of thoughtful conversation starters for middle schoolers:
- What was the coolest or weirdest thing you learned today?
- If your teacher called me to talk about you, what do you think they would say?
- If you were the teacher, how would you run class differently?
- What are the biggest changes between your classes this year and last year?
- Did any of your classmates need help today? What happened?
- When the alien abduction happens, which of your classmates would you like them to beam up?
Questions to Ask High Schoolers
Once your child enters high school, starting a meaningful conversation may become even more difficult. Instead of being jazzed to hangout with mom or dad, teens are sometimes preoccupied with friends, crushes, and asserting their independence at every turn.
Not only do your questions need to be more creative, they must also show that you support and respect your child’s increasing maturity as they strive to find their place in the grownup world. Don’t try to beat around the bush – be direct and honest if you want to get the same out of your teen.
Here are some teenage-friendly conversation starters to try:
- Which classes do you feel the most motivated in? How about the least?
- If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, which teacher in your high school would survive?
- Have you ever seen or heard about someone getting picked on at school? What would you do or want someone else to do if you were ever in that situation?
- Have you noticed any cliques or stereotypes in your school? What do you think about them?
- What do you want to keep doing or start doing after graduation? Which classes or activities can help you get there?
- What current events, political topics, or social issues do you hear or talk the most about at school?
Between work and keeping up with daily life, busy parents and guardians can’t always talk with their kids as much as they’d like. Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County is here to help ensure your child always has a supportive role model around them, ready to listen and offer trusted advice. If you’re having trouble getting your child to open up or just want to give them another outlet for support, friendship, and learning, stop in to see us today.