By: Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, M.S.

Did you find yourself having a conversation with your child and he or she responds with one-syllable words such as yes, no, good…?

Gathering information from children about their day at school or a play date they had, often feels more taxing than we expect it to be.

abdgfrfrThe problem is not with our child’s limited vocabulary or poor expressive skills. It is about our ability to phrase a good question. Asking a child “how was your day?” s confusing because a child’s day does not change much. Children go to school, sit at their desk, play during recess time, eat their snack, eat their lunch, board the bus, and go home. Asking your child about his or her day simply seems redundant. Some children may say “it’s always the same, nothing has changed.” Let’s rethink open-ended questions toward focused questions. Being able to hone in on the details of your child’s day.

Perhaps start with, “did you have a wish today?” Or “did you wish for something today?” You can share your own wish of the day such as, “I wished for my dinner to come out really tasty today.” Wait for your child’s response. Never criticize the wish! This is your time to learn more about your child’s hopes, wishes and thoughts.

Another focused question you can ask; “did someone share a story with you today? Be careful not to use descriptors when asking this questions. If you phrase the question as: “did someone share something interesting, funny, exciting” etc. you limit your child’s response. Sometimes your child might respond that no one shared a story with him or her. You can follow up by asking if there was a story he or she would have liked to share. Follow up questions to your child’s response can be questions such as, “what was your reaction” or “what did you think about that.” If these questions confuse your child, give examples of your own experience. For example “I got scared when you said that part of the story” or “I thought the story was going to end … (fill in the blank)…”

On the topic of asking questions and eliciting information, safety questions cannot be overlooked. When your child was at a friend, relative, babysitter, for either a short while or an extended period of time, safety questions must be asked. The key component to beginning to elicit information about your child’s stay is not to ask the typical “did you have a good time?” in the front of the adult who’s care your child was in. Children are social desirable creatures. They will respond what they know the other would like to hear. Ask your child about their stay when you are alone. As well as, be careful not to answer the question on your own, such as, “I’m sure you had a great time.” The next follow up questions should be something along the lines of; “was there one specific thing you did that you enjoyed most?” continue on by asking if there was something they did not enjoy or were bothered by. The latter question is essential. This will give your child the message that they have the right to dislike something and can feel safe to share with you. Most importantly, if an unfortunately an unsafe event did occur, you are giving them the opening to share what happened.

Asking children focused questions begins to develop their analytical skills and their ability to introspect. Focused questions, help your child think beyond the simple behavioral details of their day. Some children will respond by saying “I do not know.” How about teaching your child to respond with, “let me think about it.” Now, while this may seam scripted for an adult, giving a child permission to stop and think, as well as letting them know the importance of thinking, is a very valuable skill! Keep in mind, the behavioral details of the day do not matter as much as the experience your child is having. The more your child shares, the more you will understand them, and the healthier your relationship will be. At times when they need to be vulnerable with you and share something uncomfortable, they will all ready know that you are the person they feel safe sharing with.

Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, M.S.
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