From the moment my son started talking, like any adoring mother, I prompted him to say more—usually into a camera—and when he finally got the hang of it, do you think I could get him to stop? Not a chance. He was pretty proud of himself. Fast-forward a few years and now my son is a 7-year-old little man in elementary school, and my chatterbox has become a fledgling introvert. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall just to watch how he navigates through the school day, handles new social situations in the playground, presents himself in the classroom, and converses with his peers. Because when he comes home, everything that happened at school has somehow escaped his memory. My question of “So what did you do today?” is usually met with a very casual “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.” It seems I’m not alone in this dilemma. When talking with the other moms of sons at school pickup, they all say the same thing: that they can’t get a word out of them. But all the mothers with little girls can’t get them to stop talking about school, or anything else for that matter.
So how do you communicate with your children when they don’t want to talk? Well for starters, it’s partly my fault for asking such broad questions, like “How was your day?”—this just won’t cut it. And the closed-ended kind—such as “Did you have fun?” or “Are you okay?”—isn’t going to fly either. I’m a journalist; I should know better. It’s time to change tactics…
According to New York Times best-selling authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, it’s important to find common ground and treat your child’s emotions with respect. With boys, it’s about finding a moment when you’re not physically facing each other. I’ve found the best time is when I’ve just finished reading his bedtime book, and we’re having snuggles before he falls asleep. He always opens up to me about school then, recounting things that happened during the day. Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Hewlett, New York told Parenting.com, “Boys, particularly, seem to open up a bit more when they’re sitting beside you, rather than face-to-face. So keep your ears open when you’re alone with him on a car ride, or working on a project together at the kitchen table.” Author and former Vogue Australia editor in chief Kirstie Clements agrees. She told The Carousel’s Moral Maze, “If you want to ask them any invasive questions, ask them while you’re in the car, when you’re driving, and they’re in the back, because then they think you’re only half listening. It works every time.”
It’s also important to remember that your children are usually pretty tired at the end of a long school day, so be sure to give them some time to chill out and relax before you ask them anything. Otherwise, you’ll be faced with a blank stare and a one-line response. In the meantime, try doing something with them, join in on their video game, sit with them as they watch their favorite TV show, or play Lego—whatever it is they love to do. Once you’ve had some fun together and you’re both laughing and enjoying each other, then ask your son your question. I have found this works for me because he doesn’t feel so exposed; it feels more natural and in the moment.
So if you find that the usual line of questioning isn’t working for you, try getting on their level and mixing in some silly ones too. Humor is one of the best ways to break the ice. Scroll down for 14 alternative questions to ask that won’t result in a yes or no answer.
1. What was your happiest moment?
2. What do the kids actually do at recess?
3. What is the new game everyone is playing at lunchtime?
4. What was the best thing that happened to you today?
5. Tell me about a good book you read today.
6. What made you laugh out loud?
7. What did you make in art class today?
8. Did your friends hear how loud you burp?
9. If you could rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10, what would it be?
10. I heard Minecraft creepers invaded the school today. Tell me about it.
11. Did you discover a new book at the library today? Tell me about it.
12. Did your teacher find out that your parents are zombies?
13. Which of your friends had the best lunch?
14. What’s a fun fact you learned in class today?
Try something different with your children and discover new parenting techniques in the books below.
How do you get your kids to talk? Do you find the approach with boys is different than with girls? Share your tactics in the comments below.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by Adele Faber ($8)
The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary D. Chapman ($8)
Strong Mothers, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker M.D. ($11)