Back-to-School Season: The Question NOT to Ask

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

When I was in elementary school, my mother would ask, “How was your school day?”. I’d say things like “good”, “fine”, or “okay” and we’d move on to another topic or enjoy a quiet ride home. In middle and high school, I was a little more talkative, so I took the initiative to update her on important dates, school projects, and grades. However, my response to how my school day went remained short to nonexistent.


Throughout those years, I wasn’t purposely trying to be uncommunicative; I just didn’t know what to say and where to start. I was too embarrassed to tell her about the teasing and bullying. I was too shy to tell her about the crush. And I didn’t feel like she’d understand the nuances of my tween and teenage life. Thankfully, she learned about those things anyway, but it was usually too late or at the most inopportune times.


Ironically during my career as a school counselor, I learned how to help parents navigate through that same conversation. Instead of asking, “How was your school day?”, I encouraged parents to ask more open-ended questions like:


  • What was your favorite and/or least favorite part of your day?

  • What did you learn that was interesting today?

  • What was one thing that made you smile today?

  • What was one thing that made you sad today?


Throughout those years, I wasn’t purposely trying to be uncommunicative; I just didn’t know what to say and where to start.

The questions needed to be framed and adjusted to age, but the overall goal was to move the conversation from a one-word response to a more detailed answer. And guess what! It worked.


Over the years, I’ve revisited those conversations with my mother, and I chuckle with amusement and a little guilt at my responses. But I’m glad she asked. And I’m convinced that with a little more “swag” in her line of questioning, she just might have achieved her goal.


But the verdict is still out.


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