'How Was Your Day?' by Assistant Head of School and Head of Middle School John Gifford
I had a group of Class V students in my office last week and they were being ruthless. Merciless. They were unforgiving as they discussed a parent activity that they simply hated. With unanimity they detested being asked: “How was your day?” I tried to get at what was behind their passion but their responses were not particularly sophisticated. “It is just so annoying!” said one. “I just put in headphones,” said another.
I can’t remember if it was an article that I read or a talk that I heard at some conference. It was probably a decade ago by now. The goal was to get parents to consider what it felt like to be the child, freshly home from a demanding day of school. What would it feel like to have your children grill you incessantly about your day.
Child: “How was your day?”
Child: “I can’t remember, wasn’t your performance review today?”
Parent: “Um, yes.”
Child: “How’d that go? Did you make any progress on last year’s shortcomings?”
Child: “How did they put it… your ‘tendency to struggle to prioritize tasks?’ Ms. Grim couldn’t have been clearer about your need to make change there… Plus your unwillingness to take responsibility for those January sales numbers? You know that you are up for a promotion in two years and these are the sort of building blocks that will get you that job at Cambridge Associates.”
Hopefully the parallels from the scenario above and what we talk to our kids about are clear. What makes the true scenario (a grilling about homework, quizzes and such) even more difficult for the child is the control disparity. While our children are building their independence from us, they still live under our roof and you know what that means. So they have an enervating day, working hard for one set of “bosses” (their teachers), and they come home to the sanctuary that is their own home, only to get interrogated by their other bosses. Is it any wonder that they don’t say much?
I admit it: I have grilled my kids. I’m desperate to hear about their experiences and since I have already lived my own day, I don’t feel any need to relive it. When I think about my questions, it is true that they usually revolve around their performance. Depending on the child and the situation, there are appropriate times to care about and follow your child’s performance. It is understandable that some of the questions will be inevitable check-ups so that you feel confident they are getting the support they deserve. But your child should not feel that that is all that you care about. You’ll gain credibility and might even hear more from them, by showing that you are interested in more than just results.
The Huffington Post ran an article last year called, "25 Ways to Ask Your Kids 'So How Was School Today?' Without Asking Them 'So How Was School Today?'." While not all the questions fit me, they gave me some ideas. I particularly liked the question about lunch (what is a better ice-breaker than asking about lunch?) and I also liked the one which asked about switching seats. I’m always interested in who my children are hanging out with.
I also try to model some unsolicited storytelling. Rather than asking how their day went, try to remember an interesting, humorous or challenging moment from work. Tell the story. Trying this has made me realize two things: First, it is harder than you’d think to come up with an in interesting, humorous or challenging moment from the day. I don’t think it is because they don’t happen. But creating narrative around them takes reflection that I haven’t usually done and creativity that I haven’t yet employed. The second realization is the main point: my kids will often find some connection to my story and use it as a spring-board to their own. On those occasions, I have gotten them to talk about their day without asking them.
So we have some suggestions of what to how to ask it, but why are we asking our children about their day in the first place? We must make sure that our motivations are productive for the child’s development. As Diane Levin, Ph.D., professor of education at Wheelock College stated in an article posted at pbs.org, “More than just finding out how their day was, we want to help kids become problems solvers and independent learners. Good conversations help kids see we care about their lives, that we are there to support them, and to help them develop strategies for solving problems themselves.”