Chatting to your kids is not supposed to be habitual. Communication is an art. So if you want more than a habituated response you’re going to have to be a little more creative in your questions.
“How was your day?” is never going to get more than an answer of “Fine”.
I’d like to address this issue, because it’s impact goes beyond just not really knowing how your child’s day was to how they communicate with other human beings as they get older.
Think about the proverbial cocktail party. When last did someone you’d just met ask you, “What was your most epic failure?” or “What is it that when you’re doing it you totally lose track of time and space?” Wouldn’t our interactions with our fellow beings be much more interesting, engaging and ultimately meaningful if we had learned as children to ask anything other than the obvious?
Now the art of truly meaningful conversation requires knowing the person that you are speaking to and what is most important to them. Not so easy at a cocktail party when you’ve only just met (although a good incentive to find out quickly rather than lingering on small talk), but with your own child this should already be somewhat obvious.
Whatever we most love is where we become extroverted in our conversations and where we have the least interest, we become introverted – chat to me about parenting and I’ll keep you up all night, what to me about rugby and I’ll be asleep in minutes.
So while I’d love to give you a standard list of questions to ask your kids after school, you will have much more engagement with them if you tailor-make your questions to suit their particular interests.
If you child loves soccer, ask things like:
If you were the world’s best soccer player, what did you learn today that could help you improve your game?
If you were picking your ideal soccer team from the people in your class, who would you pick first? Who would you pick last? Why?
Or if your child loves dolls, you could ask:
If everyone in your class was suddenly turned into Barbie dolls, who would look the most ridiculous?
What do you think your favourite doll would tell me if she had been in your class today?
If your child loves reading, you could ask:
What happened in the story of your life today?
Who was the most interesting character in the story of your life today?
What one thing happened today that you would add to a book you were writing?
Or if your child loves Minecraft:
If you turned everyone in your class into Minecraft characters, who would be villagers, who would be giant spiders, who would be creepers, and who would be skeletons?
Do you think your teacher would survive if everyone in the class turned into creepers?
If your child loves music, you could ask:
Which song best describes your day?
If you were making a movie of your day, which band would you get to play the soundtrack?
Think about what your children love, what makes them come alive, and work on open ended questions that will help you to get more than a one-word response. Not only will you get some deeper insight into your child’s life, but this will also help your kids to engage more meaningfully with others as they get older. Win-win!