The Daily Debrief: Tips on Talking with Your Kids about Their School Day

As children rise early, don their backpacks, and return to school, many parents will spend
their days eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reconnect with their kids and hear all of the details about what they learned and experienced during their hours away from home. Too often, though, parental queries about their children’s school day are met with brief, non-descript responses: “We didn’t really do anything”; “I don’t remember”; “It was fine”; leaving parents feeling very much on the outside, struggling to peer in. 

Despite their seeming reluctance to debrief
their day with their parents, however, children and adolescents continue to require and benefit from parental guidance and support, leaving parents in
a little bit of a quandary: ‘How can I continue to connect, celebrate, and problem-solve with my children when they share such little information about their school day?’ This dilemma broadens into a critical conversation about how parents can foster meaningful and robust dialogue with their children about their time spent at school and with their peers, and even their time spent at extracurricular activities.

Read on for some effective tips and strategies that you can use for this very purpose:

Select questions you will get answers to. For
 many parents, and for many years, the go-to question has always been: “So, how was your day?” Although asked with the best of intentions, this type of question
is both vague and inspires a monosyllabic response: “It was good”; “It was fine”; “I forget.” Another popular conversation starter is: “Tell me about your day.” While open-ended questions are frequently asked to inspire dialogue about anything and everything, children coming off the heels of a long and tiring day are more likely to find this question overwhelming and exhausting. Without a tangible query around which to shape their responses, kids are once again likely to gravitate toward brief and limited answers. Parents are encouraged
to experiment with questions that are both specific
and function as effective launching pads into further conversation.

Examples include:

  • “Tell me about the most memorable moment of 
your day.” 


  • “Tell me about one incident from your day that 
you wish had gone differently.” 


  • “What was one moment during your day that 
made you laugh?” 


  • “What was the weirdest or wackiest thing you 
heard today? It could be something you learned or 
something you overheard people talking about!” 


  • “What did you choose to do during recess?” 


  • “Tell me about a moment today when you 
felt happy/sad/bored/frustrated/disappointed/confused.” 


  • “Tell me about a time today when you helped out 
another person or another person helped you.”

These types of questions have the advantage of 
offering children a clear focal point to consider, while also eliciting meaningful information and creating opportunities for further discussion. 


Choose your timing carefully. Remember that after a full day of working hard at academics, social interaction, and managing emotional successes and setbacks, children are tired. While many parents attempt to debrief the day soon after their children have gotten in the car or walked through the front door, children may not yet feel ready to revisit the highs and lows of their school day. Further, for two-parent households, children may be 
unwilling to discuss their day twice over with each parent separately. As such, parents may experience greater conversational success if they allow their kids some time to decompress and relax before asking questions about their day. In two-parent households, try to time these conversations at communal times when both parents can be present. For example, at dinnertime and the time between dinnertime and bedtime may offer valuable opportunities for discussion and connection with your kids. Although kids may be more forthcoming on some days than on others, making these conversations part of the daily routine can create a reassuring sense of predictability and consistency for them.

Model conversational sharing. In some cases,
daily debriefs run the risk of feeling a little bit like interrogations to children, particularly if parents are not also engaging in the sharing process. Choosing the right questions and the right timing can offset this experience. However, parents are also encouraged to share with
their kids. Parental sharing achieves two purposes: Firstly, it models positive conversational practices through parents offering thoughtful and detailed responses to their children’s questions. Secondly, it develops healthy communication patterns and illustrates that reconnection after a long day is important for all members of the family. Children can and should have an interest in their parents’ days, just as their parents have an interest in their days. Parents can respond to the same questions that they ask their children, but children should be encouraged to ask questions of their own. Learning to ask others questions about their experiences is a critical social skill and a powerful way of exhibiting interest and care for others.

Become an engaged, active listener. Once children do begin sharing information about their day, make sure to provide them with an open, attentive, and non-judgmental space to talk. There may be need for problem-solving, guidance, and even consequences, depending on what is being discussed. However, prior to jumping in, ensure that kids have the opportunity to express themselves in full. Engaged body language, including head nods and gentle sounds of attentiveness (“Mmmhmm”; “Yes”; “Okay”) is often enough to reassure children they are in a safe conversational space and they are being heard. After children have finished sharing, parents can enter the dialogue with their own perspectives and ideas.

Ultimately, regardless of the outcome of the conversation, children are much more likely to continue sharing if they know that they will be heard, with patience, love, and support, from beginning to end.

Soraya Lakhani, R. Psych., is the Clinical Director of Yellow Kite Child Psychology, yellowkite.ca, located in Calgary. Soraya is a thought leader on parenting and child psychology, and her work has frequently appeared on CBC, Global and other major media outlets. 

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