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

Get past the "fine" reply and become a better listener

Working Mom coming home
How to calm the chaos and get solid answers to "How was your day?". Getty Images/Blend Images - KidStock

Another day at the office is over and now it’s time to pick up the kiddos and see what they’ve been up to. You want to be present with your kids, so you begin by turning off your thoughts about work and thinking about your children. 

You get home, unpack your things, and ask your kids the usual: “So, how was your day?”

And what's their answer almost every single time?

“Fine.”

Or, everyone starts talking and you can’t hear anyone. Then there’s a fight over who gets your attention. Everyone is sent to their corners, including you.

Sigh.

How are you supposed to "be present" with your children if they won't tell you anything or you can’t follow more than one conversation?

Here’s how.

Schedule Downtime

To ease the chaos that naturally ensues when you arrive home, get everyone settled down. Set each kid up with an activity they can zone out with like coloring, reading a book, working on an art or craft project, or building Legos. Can’t think of an activity? Ask the kids what one thing they look forward to doing the most when they come home. 

While they're settling down, resist the urge to grill them about their day. You (hopefully) have changed gears from work life to home life on your way to pick up the kids or on your drive home, so give them a chance to decompress and unwind too. Their days are just as long as yours are, albeit in a different way.

And, if anyone starts whining about hunger pains, give them a small, healthy snack if there's still a while before dinner.

Change the Question

Once the kids are settled and dinner is under control, or after dinner, if that works better, sit with each kid individually to talk about the day's events and happenings. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” and getting the obligatory (and conversation-ending), "Fine," try one of these questions instead to help direct the conversation:

  1. Who did you sit with at lunch?
  2. What was your favorite game at recess?
  3. How was <teacher’s name> today?
  4. How did you feel today? Why?
  5. What was the hardest thing you did today?
  6. If you could pick three friends to play <favorite game of theirs>, who would it be and why?
  7. Who made you feel happy today?
  8. What was your favorite part of the day?
  9. What did you color today?
  10. What did you do in gym class?
  11. What are you learning about in math?
  12. If today was a color, what would it be?
  13. What is one creative thing you did today?
  14. Tell me about a/the book you read today.
  15. (On a rainy day) Did you have indoor recess or outdoor recess?
  16. Were you bored today? Why or why not?
  17. Tell me about a problem you solved today.
  18. Did you fix anything today?
  19. Was today a fast day or a slow day?
  20. What new rule did you learn about?
  21. Did anything happen today that made you proud?
  22. Did you run into any particular challenges today?
  23. How did your <subject> test go today?

Adjust the questions to your child's age, interests, and activities.

Listen

Depending on your kid, you may only get one chance to ask a question, but even so, only ask ONE question to begin with. Then sit tight, be quiet, and listen. Give him or her the space and the opportunity to answer. 

When your child has answered you, sit tight some more. Sometimes kids get that afterthought of another story they want to share with you that had nothing to do with your initial question. 

Learning to sit tight improves your listening skills. You not only listen to your child's words, but you learn to pay attention to what's being said ... and what isn’t. 

This is when being present comes into play. When you ask your child how her day was, this is THE most important time to not think about any kind of work or to be distracted by anything else. This is the time for you to look at your child, hopefully gain eye contact, watch her, and listen to her. 

When he answers a question, be curious about what he just said. Try responding with requests for more information, such as, “Wow! Tell me more about that!” or “That’s so interesting. How did that happen?” or even better, “How did that make you feel?”

You are the person your child wants to share her feelings with. So when your child is answering your questions, watch her body language. If her shoulders are slumped, ask her why that is. She may not have realized she was sitting that way, but in the next minute or two, she may have an answer why. Sit tight.

Being a good listener shows your child that you are present and that you're interested in him. There’s something about someone who truly listens to you that says, "I care about you." Knowing that he has that unconditional love and concern from you boosts his self-esteem and opens up the path for good communication between you through the teen years and adulthood.

When All Else Fails

Your kid might be one of those who answers everything with a conversation-ender like, "Yes," "No," "Fine," or "I don't know." If you really can't get your child to tell you about her day, don't give up. Talk about something that happened during your day, about something you learned or saw, or 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 that helps you get to know who your kid is as a person that much better and reinforces that you are interested in her and value her. And isn't that really the main point?