A Simple, Zero-lift Trick to Get Kids Talking After School

published Jan 19, 2022
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Before my daughter started school, parent-friends would bemoan the way their kids revealed nothing about their days. The school day was like a locked vault of experiences that parents didn’t have access to. My friends were hurt, and I can see why: It’s hard to feel excluded from such a big part of your kid’s life.

But I also remember keenly what it was like to be the kid getting picked up from school. As an introvert, the full day of interaction just left me drained, and talking about my day to my mom seemed like another chore I couldn’t muster the energy for. It’s no wonder why kids don’t always feel like talking after school or even later at the dinner table. They’re totally talked out!

So when I saw the same ritual playing out with my daughter — the near-silent pick-up, the prodding questions and one-word answers — I knew I needed to get creative. Rather than thinking about our post-school conversations as an obligation, I began to think of them as a game. 

Now, when my daughter gets in the car, I keep the radio off. We drive for a few minutes quietly. 

Then I say casually, “Hm, I wonder if Ryder ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich again?” 

She usually pivots her attention my way and corrects me: “No, Mama, he had pizza today. He sat at the Green Table. And then Emma had a Lunchable like me, but hers was in the plastic container. We threw mulch at recess. Mrs. Percy didn’t even see us!” 

I found that one small, low-stakes question — usually starting with the phrase “I wonder…” — invites so much more conversation than the loaded, expectation-filled phrase “How was your day?” It almost always works, in fact. My daughter begins making mental associations from that one question and before long, I have a sketch of her day, full of delightful details she may never have shared if I’d prodded.

Of course, I don’t ask about Ryder and his sandwich every day. I pick out different classmates she’s mentioned, storing them in my mind like a Rolodex. (I’ve even asked for class lists from teachers!) Sometimes I wonder aloud if Aria is wearing her cool purple scrunchie; or if Pax yelled at Mattie again during kickball. I wonder if Deputy Dan made a presentation that day (knowing full well that he has, because I get the school calendar too). The key to these moments is giving up the conversational power and allowing kids to be the experts of their experiences. It’s a small trick, but one I use pretty regularly. And it empowers my daughter to frame the conversation, which is the best part of all.

But then, sometimes, I just put on the Encanto soundtrack in the car and we don’t talk at all until we get home. That’s okay too. Like me, my daughter needs the time to unwind; and like other kids, she just doesn’t get that much time alone with her thoughts throughout the day. Our family can have moments of connection that center around conversation — and, just as meaningfully, we can have moments that center around silence too.