Getting a preschooler to talk about their day often sounds like this …
Parent: How was school?!?
Parent: What did you do?
Parent: Nothing? Come on, tell me what happened today. Did you learn anything?
Parent: How were your classmates?
How can parents get their preschooler to open up when the preschooler seems so uninterested in talking? Here are some things to keep in mind and to try.
Note: While this article is written specifically for parents of preschoolers, some of the concepts can certainly be used with older children and teenagers.
The first thing to keep in mind is that your kid may be telling the absolute truth when their response to your question is, “I don’t remember.”
Preschool kids are still developing their working memories, and that process is different for every child. Instead of asking broad questions and expecting them to know the answer, ask specific ones to help them recall a memory. (More on that later.) It’s very possible the memory is literally gone, though. Accept it and keep going.
Give Them A Moment
Don’t you like a little down time right after you get home from work? Kids are no different. Whether it’s bedtime battles, tantrums, or back-to-school stress, not getting necessary transition time can be a big reason why big emotions are present.
Transitions can also be what’s behind a child’s reluctance or inability to talk about their day. If their brains haven’t had the chance to shift from “I’m in school” to “I’m with family,” asking them questions too quickly can clog up their thinking. Pair that with their still-developing language skills, and it’s not really surprising that their answer to what they did today is, “Nothing.”
So let them relax right after school. Let them eat, read a book, and feel like they’re in charge of their world for a bit. Then ask about their day.
Three Strategies for Parents
To help our kids overcome the difficulty of a short memory and the need for a transition, here are three strategies to employ when trying to find out more about your preschooler’s day.
- Ask In Action – Sometimes it’s easier to talk to another person (especially an authority figure, like a parent) when other things are going on. Pay attention to times when your child is more eager to answer questions. Use activities, such as coloring, going on a walk, driving in the car, or taking a bath, as a way to learn about your preschooler’s day. Make sure to try several options. One kid may love to talk at dinner time, but another child may feel called-out and clam up when everybody stops eating and looks at them.
- Ask Specific Questions – “How was your day?” is such a broad question, we shouldn’t be surprised when kids answer it with a very broad, “Fine.” Ask specific things about specific people and activities. If your child’s preschool offers a communication platform or mobile app like LuvNotes, take a minute to review the updates and pictures of your child participating in activities and use these to guide the questions you ask your child. Pediatric mental health therapist Sean Nixon suggests these four go-to questions.
- “Tell me about something that made you laugh today.”
- “Tell me about something that you felt sad about today.”
- “Tell me about something that you were frustrated about today.”
- “Tell me about something that you learned today.”
- Don’t Make It A “Friendly Interrogation” – Your intentions for asking so many questions about your child’s day are obviously good. You want to hear about their day! But asking too many questions too quickly and going into “problem-solving mode” can make your child feel like this …
Keep your questions to a minimum, reeeeally listen to their responses, and don’t jump to “I’ll fix this” instantly. If your child associates talking about their day with making you upset, they’ll stop talking. Instead of getting exasperated when you hear Connor took your child’s toy again (jeez, Connor …), listen to their story, sympathize with them, and circle back to the issue if it’s the wrong time to talk about it.
The habits, routines, and relationship you build with your child when they are 4 or 5 can carry on into their teenage years and beyond. Creating clear paths of communication that don’t overwhelm, aren’t pushy, and truly feel safe are things that will make it easier for you to learn about what’s going on with your children for the rest of their lives.