At a glance
Some kids don’t like to share information about their school day.
The way you ask kids questions can encourage them to talk more.
Ask specific, open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with yes or no.
Some kids love talking about school. With others, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to share even a few details about their day — especially if something’s upsetting them, like bullying or struggling in school.
If your child is on the quieter side or is very private, there are ways to ask questions that will open up a conversation instead of shutting one down. Here are some key things to keep in mind.
1. Ask open-ended questions. If you ask a question that can be answered with one word — yes or no — that’s what you’ll get. A one-word answer. Try asking open-ended questions instead.
Example: “What was the best thing you did at school today?”
2. Start with a factual observation. Kids often have a hard time answering questions that seem to come out of the blue. Making an observation gives your child something to relate to.
Example: “I know you have a lot more kids in your class this year. What’s that like?”
3. Share something about yourself. When someone tells you about themselves, it’s natural to want to do that in return. Share something with your child and see what you get back.
Example: “We always played dodgeball at recess. What do you and your friends like to do?”
4. Avoid negative questions. If you think something isn’t going well, your questions may come out in a negative way, with emotion-packed words like sad or mean. Asking in a positive way lets your child express concerns.
Example: “I heard that you sat with new people at lunch today. What did you talk about?”
Here are other examples of how to say things differently to get your child to open up.
Afterschool conversation starters
|Instead of this||Try this|
|Was school fun today?||What was the best thing you did at school?|
|How was lunch?||Which kids were sitting near you at lunch?|
|Was your teacher nice?||What was the most interesting thing your teacher said today?|
|Did you get your locker today?||How was it getting to your locker between classes?|
|Were the kids in your class friendly?||Who did you like talking to the most?|
|Did you get your schedule?||You got your schedule today, right? Which days look busiest?|
|Do you have friends in your classes?||Who are the kids you talk to most in your classes?|
|Did your presentation go well?||What part of the presentation do you think was best?|
Phrasing your questions this way invites your child to talk. But don’t expect for every question to result in a long, detailed answer. The goal is to have many small conversations over time. It helps to find natural moments to talk — like at dinner or riding in the car — when you’re not in a rush.
Sometimes kids, like adults, just don’t feel like talking. It’s important to know when to stop asking questions and leave it for another time. But if there’s something urgent or serious going on, you’ll have to ask direct, specific questions and push for an answer.
Looking for more conversation starters and responses to use with your child? Find out what to say when your child:
You may also want to read why one mom stopped saying “have a good day” to her son.
Sharing something about yourself can get your child to open up.
Positive questions (“What’s your favorite class?”) let your child express concerns.
Find natural moments to talk — like at dinner or riding in the car — when you’re not in a rush.
About the author
About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.