The Best Questions to Ask Your Kids About Their Day at School

Mother and daughter talking and laughing

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

One of the wonderful things about sending our kids to school is that they get to experience a whole world outside their life at home. Their experiences are educational, of course, but also social. They are experiencing what it’s like to be a part of their school’s culture, to make friends, to connect with teachers, and to change and grow as people.

As parents, we want our children to have these experiences on their own and in their own ways, but we also want as much information as possible about what goes on during their time away from us. We want to know the joys they experienced, the new things they learned, and we want to be alerted to any difficulties they may have encountered—especially ones that their teachers may not be aware of.

Bottom line? We just want some inside info from our kids about how their day at school went. But what do parents usually get back from their kids when they ask simple questions like, “How was your day?” Radio silence.

Tips for Getting Your Child to Share 

Mother holding her son's face in her hands

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

Whether we are talking about our littlest kids or our tweens and teens, they tend to be more guarded about their lives and don't offer much information. So what’s a parent to do? How can we engage in a positive way with our children so that they feel comfortable opening up and sharing the good (and not so good) details about their day at school?

We connected with some experts and fellow parents to offer insight into how to get those conversations flowing. Here's what they had to say.

Make Your Questions Specific

Make your after-school questions as specific as possible, suggests Dana Basu, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice at everGROW therapy. Asking kids open-ended questions like "How was your day?" can cause them to draw a blank. But asking questions about what activities they did that day, or what emotions they felt, can really help.

“I love asking my kids specific questions about their school day, which helps point their attention to specific moments,” Dr. Basu says. “I find that this allows them to be better able to recall stories and moments from their day with me.”

She shares her favorite questions geared toward younger children (elementary/preschool age). Here are a few examples:

  • Who did you play with at recess?
  • What did you do during PE class?
  • Who had a hard time in school today?
  • What did you need help with today? Who helped you?
  • What was your favorite thing about your day?

Some specific questions for older children might include things like:

  • Who did you work with during the science lab?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • Who did you hang out with at lunch?
  • Who is your favorite/least favorite teacher this year?
  • Is there anything I can do to support you today?

Start by Talking About Your Day

Children will be more likely to open up to us if we open up to them, too, says Elizabeth Manly, a former elementary teacher who currently runs the website Discovery Play With Littles. Start a casual conversation with your child by telling them how your day went. Getting as specific about the details as possible will help. You can tell them simple things like you forgot your coffee or your favorite pen broke.

“The more you tell them, the more they will understand how to talk about their day,” Manly says. "Oftentimes, younger kids don't know how to talk about their day. We forget this is also a skill that has to be taught.”

When it comes time for you to then ask your child about your day, Manly echoes Dr. Basu’s advice of being as specific as possible.

“Ask what they had for snack, who they played with at recess, and what story they read,” she suggests. “Sometimes the general question of ‘How was your day?’ is too big for little children to answer. They don't even know where to begin! If you ask what they did in gym class, they know that answer right away.”

Ask Nothing and Connect Instead

Elle Kwan, from Hand in Hand Parenting, has an “out-of-the-box” way of handling the afterschool question situation.

“My answer is ‘ask nothing,’” Kwan says. “At least not a first.”

That idea might go against your instincts, at first. But holding your tongue when your child first comes home makes sense when you think about it.

“School can be tough for kids, even when it's going well,” Kwan shares. “They are hearing, seeing, and doing so many new things, all without you. What they want to feel when they get home is warmth and safety and to know that you're happy they are back.”

Instead of talking and asking all those questions you are aching for answers to, Kwan suggests you take some time at first to connect with your child. Offer them a hug or a high five. Spend some time making jokes and laughing with your child if they feel playful, or consider racing them home from school for fun. Do whatever works for your child to help them feel safe, grounded, and at home.

Once they are happy and calm, that might be the time you can start to ask them questions about their day. But you’ve got to set the stage, says Kwan, and gently ease them into it.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Daniela Wolfe, LMSW, a high school social worker of 25 years and mom to two teens, knows how hard it can be to get kids—especially older ones—to share how their day went.

“I would bet that if you asked any kid ‘How was your day,' you would be almost guaranteed to get the response ‘Fine,’” says Wolfe. “While that might sound like things are OK—that really tells you nothing and ends the conversation.”

As such, Wolfe says that you really need to ask more open-ended questions to get kids talking, especially if you are looking for fuller answers to your questions.

Sample Open-Ended Questions

Here are some questions you can ask, or you can substitute your own:

  • What made you laugh/smile?
  • What made you sad?
  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • Who did you sit with at lunch or talk to?

Wolfe says you should consider these questions starting points, and that you can offer follow-up questions as the conversation moves along.

“While this is not an exhaustive list, and you don't want to drill them like an interrogation, these are the starting points for a conversation," Wolfe says.

Ask a Question Without Eye Contact

It may sound counterintuitive, but asking your kids about their day without making eye contact can help get the conversation flowing, too. Varda Meyers Epstein, parenting expert, writer, and editor at Kars4Kids, says that this practice can make the interaction more comfortable for shy or resistant children because it removes some of the social pressure from the situation.

“My favorite trick for getting kids to talk is to NOT make eye contact,” Epstein says. “Eye contact makes kids feel put on the spot, so they close up and don’t respond to you.”

What might that look like? Epstein says you can start the conversation with your kids when your back is to them. For example, when you are washing dishes and they are sitting at the kitchen table eating, start a conversation. You also can do this while you walk with them or while you are driving in the car. Some kids will even open up more readily over text messages for the same reason.

Finding different ways to start a conversation with your child is the point here. Avoiding eye contact is one way to make children feel more comfortable, especially if they are more introverted or are reluctant to share difficult feelings with you.

Try the "High Low Buffalo" Game

Grace Poole, parenting expert and founder of Parenting Under Pressure, recommends a fun game you can play with your kids to get them to open up.

“I love the High Low Buffalo game to get kids (or anyone, really) to open up!” says Poole. “Basically, you go around the table and everyone talks about their high of the day, their low of the day, and their buffalo of the day. The buffalo is essentially anything else they thought was interesting or random that they want to mention.”

With this game, everyone can participate, including parents and other siblings. And usually, the conversations last well past game time. What’s more, playing the game consistently can get your family in the habit of sharing more intimate feelings with one another.

“The more consistently you play this game (let's say, every night), the more your kids will feel like dinner time [or whenever the game is played] is a safe space where they can be authentic, honest, and vulnerable,” Poole says. “And if your kids see you being authentic, honest, and vulnerable in return, it will help them realize that the game isn't just about getting them to talk. It's about helping everyone in the family understand each other better.”

A Word from Verywell

Taking a different approach to after-school questions rather than asking “How was your day?” can open up a lot of important conversations, and it can help us reconnect with our children after school. However, remember that every child is different, and while one method might work well for one child, it might not work at all for another.

At the same time, if your child won’t open up, and if you think they may be struggling with something in school, remember you don’t have to do this alone. Speak to your child’s teachers, the school psychologist, or their pediatrician, especially if they seem troubled, are unhappy, or are having trouble completing schoolwork. Every child deserves a chance to have their feelings heard and understood, but some children may need a little extra help to get there.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.