How to Get an Awesome Response to "How Was Your Day?"

If you are like most parents, it may seem like the moments when you can learn about your school-age child's day or have a meaningful conversation with your teen are few and far between. From music lessons, Scouts, sports, and other activities, to meetings, homework, and family responsibilities, it can be hard to carve out time to find out what is going on in your child's day.

So, while in a rush to connect in a limited amount of time, you likely default to asking the standard "How was your day?" on the way home from school or at the dinner table. And in response, you probably receive the standard one-word answer like "fine" or "good" most of the time.

No one needs to tell you that one-word answers like "fine" or "OK" are not good fodder for a healthy discussion. In fact, you are probably frustrated by the fact that the conversation ends before it even gets started.

If your goal is to connect with your kids and learn more about what is happening in their lives after a long day of being apart, you are going to have to get creative when it comes to asking about their day. Doing so will help you avoid the typical one-word responses like "fine" and have a more meaningful conversation instead. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Ask the Right Type of Questions

Some parents have found that asking meaningful questions is helpful. For instance, they avoid asking about a test, a grade, or anything academic. They sometimes even refrain from asking about practices and performances. For many kids, questions that deal with their performance in some way create anxiety and cause them to shut down. They either feel defensive or are anxious about meeting expectations. Instead, ask general, open-ended questions like "What was the bravest thing you did today?" or "What was the kindest thing you saw at school today?"

It's also a good idea to refrain from probing for more information than your child or teen wants to offer. Meanwhile, learn to be patient and wait silently to see if there is more to come. Many times, kids will offer more information if you demonstrate that you are listening but not judging them. Offering too much advice or trying to fix something also can cause kids to shut down.

Change the Question

Instead of asking a generic question like “How was your day?”, mix it up a little bit. Not only do unique questions teach kids the art of conversation, but they also provide you with a better picture of what is going on in their lives and in their hearts. Just be sure to gear your questions to your child's age, interests, and activities. Here are some unique questions that may help you direct the conversation:

  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • What was the hardest thing you did today?
  • If you could pick three friends to play with/hang out with, who would they be and why?
  • Who put a smile on your face today?
  • What was your least favorite part of the day?
  • What are you learning about in <class>?
  • If today was a color, what would it be and why?
  • What is one creative thing you did today?
  • Tell me about a/the book you <read/are reading>.
  • Were you bored today? Why or why not?
  • Tell me about a problem you solved today.
  • Was today a fast day or a slow day? Why?
  • What rule do you have to follow that makes no sense?
  • Did anything happen today that made you proud?
  • Did you face any particular challenges today?
  • What was the kindest thing you did today?
  • Do you have any questions for me about your day?
  • What are you excited about right now?
  • If you could pack anything in your lunch tomorrow, what would it be and why?
  • What is the most important thing you learned today?

Take Advantage of Captured Time

When you are traveling in the car or sitting at the dinner table with your child, this is considered captured time. Captured time is time when your child is likely open to talking because there are limited distractions.

What's more, there is something about riding in a car that often gets kids to open up and share. Part of it has to do with the fact that they do not have to make eye contact with you unless they want to while sharing information. They can look out the window or down at their plate if they want.

Consequently, these moments of captured time are the best times to get your kids to talk about their day. Whether it is riding home from school, after practice, or on the way to grandma's house, take advantage of this captured time to strike up a conversation. Turn down the radio. Ask them to put away their devices and talk to one another about life.

Turn It Into a Game

Sometimes getting the conversation going at the dinner table can take a little effort and creativity. For this reason, some parents find that using a family fun night or conversation games like "High/Low" or "Would You Rather?" are really helpful in striking up a conversation.

To play "High/Low," everyone at the dinner table takes turns telling the others one high point of the day and one low point of the day. Hearing what your kids consider a high point and what they consider a low point can provide a lot of insight into their lives and act as a conversation starter.

Meanwhile, "Would You Rather" is a fun way to interact with one another by using absurd questions like "Would you rather drink one jar of pickle juice or smell like a dill pickle for a week?" or "Would you rather have a water balloon fight every day or a food fight once a week?" There are no rules as to what the questions can or can't be about. Let everyone take turns making up questions and have fun.

Make Sure You Are Listening

Depending on your child, you may only get one chance to ask a question and receive an answer. So put away your electronics, avoid thinking about work, and give your child your full attention.

Then ask your question and wait for the answer. Be quiet and listen. Giving kids the space and the opportunity to answer is as important as asking the right question. Then, once your child has answered you, continue to sit quietly. Sometimes kids remember something else they want to add or they think of another story they want to share with you that had nothing to do with your initial question. 

Learning to sit tight not only gives your child the space to share, but it also improves your active listening skills. Look at your child and make eye contact if you can. Then, concentrate on watching your child and listening. You should not only listen to your child's words, but you should also pay attention to what's being said and what isn’t being said. 

Remember, you are the person your child wants to share with. Being a good listener shows your child that you are present and that you are interested. There’s something about someone who really listens to you that says, "I care about you." When kids know that they have unconditional love and concern from you, it boosts their self-esteem and opens up the path for good communication for years to come.

Stay Available

Kids can be unpredictable when it comes to sharing about their day. As a result, they may not seem that interested in talking to you when you ask them about their day in the car or when you play a conversation game at the dinner table. But later as you walk into their room to say goodnight, they suddenly want to tell you about the fight they had with their best friend.

Make every effort to stop and listen to what they have to say. They are making an effort to share with you; and you want to do what you can to encourage this type of conversation. The more often you show your kids that you are interested in their lives, the more often they will open up to you.

Likewise, if your school-age child or your tween comes into your home office to talk, if at all possible, make time for them. If you are doing something that cannot be interrupted, ask if you can talk in 15 minutes and then follow through with your promise.

You want to be sure your kids know you are available to them. If you are busy or pre-occupied every time they want to talk to you, then you will likely get the same response from them when you reach out about their day. They will be too busy or pre-occupied to truly engage in a conversation with you.

A Word From Verywell

If no matter how hard you try, your child still seems to be one of those kids who answers everything with a conversation-ender like, "Yes," "No," "Fine," or "I don't know," don't stress out too much. Do your best to accept that they may just prefer not to share a lot. But that also doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to connect on some level.

Try talking about something that happened during your day. Mention what you learned or saw at work or talk about a memory you have from your own childhood. Even if you don't end up talking specifically about your child's day, you may still end up having a great conversation. What's more, the questions and responses to what you are saying help you get to know your child as a person. And, the time you spend talking reinforces to kids that you are interested in them and value them, even if they are not talking much.

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