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5 Conversation Starters to Say When Your Kid Gets Home from School (and Why It Matters)  

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My vision of back-to-school always goes something like this: A tearful goodbye (the separation anxiety is real) followed by an end-of-day reunion where my child regales me with stories of learning and fun. I vicariously live through their science lesson while also getting the hot goss about who they played with at recess or sat next to at lunch.

Of course, the reality plays out much differently. My son—I kid you not—often limits his update to the contents of his lunchbox. Me: “How was your day?” Him: “Check to see what I didn’t eat in my lunchbox, mama!” The end.

And I’m not alone. It’s a recurring problem for parents who want nothing more than their kids to open up about their day, especially since we know that the reunion after time apart is one of the most meaningful opportunities for bonding.

So, the million dollar question: How do we get them to share?

First, get into the right mindset. Per Dr. Gertrude Lyons, founder of Rewriting the Mother Code, you can’t expect to connect with your child if you’re distracted. “Children are very perceptive and can sense when we are probing vs. genuinely wanting mutual engagement,” she explains. To get into the right head space, Dr. Lyons recommends taking 5 to 10 minutes ahead of the reunion time to stop what you are doing and clear your internal space. “This can be on your commute to pick them up or simply stepping away from your workspace. Do some breathing exercises, take sips of your cup of coffee, whatever it takes to get you to pause for a minute so that you can feel present when you reunite.”

And here’s some good news for busy parents (ahem, all parents): You don’t need to set aside an hour after school to bond your child. Dr. Lyons says that taking just a few minutes to sit on the couch together, play or go outside can set a very different tone when it comes to getting them to open up. “It’s not about the amount of time you spend catching up, but about the small acts of connection that go a long way,” she explains.

This is especially true after a period of separation. Taking the time to connect (meaning you give them your undivided attention) after school reinforces our kid’s sense of attachment and helps them feel more secure. Ultimately, that builds your child’s sense of trust.

The Best Phrases to Get Your Child to Open Up

It’s true: Asking “how was your day?” never gets us the response that we want. This has a lot to do with the fact that it can be answered with a one-word response (i.e., “Good”). Instead, it’s better to prioritize open-ended questions that give kids the space and freedom to share, according to Dr. Lyons.

A handful of fail-safe phrases to try:

• What did you play with today?

• Did anything funny happen at school?

• What was your favorite part of the day?

• Tell me about…[insert something specific about their day]

• I love hearing about [insert something you know they enjoy talking about from their day]

Dr. Lyons also highly recommends something she calls The Feelings Game. It works like this: Each person looks at their day through the lens of five primary emotions (fear, hurt, anger, sadness and joy) and you each say one time in your day when you felt each emotion. “It is such a rich way to hear from each other and give high quality answers rather than a list of activities we did,” she says.

Still, the most important part is demonstrating genuine focus. Even in short bursts, it works—and can go a long way when it comes to our efforts to connect (even if that connection is all about discussing Lunchables). 

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