No More "How Was School Today?"

It’s amazing how early in life kids want their parents to mind their own business. Many parents of older children and teens lament how difficult it is to get their kids to talk about their lives and answer basic questions like, “How was your day?” But I have seen children as young as 3 in the habit of answering “Fine” and implicitly shutting down further discussion. That’s not to say that a preschooler has the same reasons as a teenager to set up a roadblock in front of his parents (e.g., a need for increased autonomy). It could simply be a product of parents and kids unwittingly developing an ineffective communication pattern.

Here is one way to get out of the rut:  Play Rose, Thorn, and Bud (RTB). I first heard of RTB from Drew Harwell, a friend of mine who runs a nature mentoring program for preschoolers and elementary-aged children.

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The game is pretty straightforward. The adult starts off by asking, “What was your rose for the day?” (i.e., “Tell me about something good that happened today.”) Sometimes it works best for the adults to share their own roses first to remind the little ones how to do it. Next comes the bad thing(s) that may have happened:  “What was your thorn for the day?” The last question, “Do you have a bud you’re excited about?” is a way to find out if the child is looking forward to anything (e.g., a birthday, a meal, etc.), a little practice in positive thinking. Each one of the questions is a starting point for dialogue that helps parents stay informed about some of the most important events in the child’s life as well as her reactions to them.

Another option is to create a simple visual with the colors blue (for a quiet or sad moment), red (for a loud or angry moment), and green (for a happy moments). So a father might ask his kindergartner, “Did you have any time in the green zone today?” or "What put you in the red zone today?" Emotion faces work, too, instead of colors. With some practice, younger children are usually able to pair their own feelings with colors or emotion faces, so the latter two activities might be easier starting points than RTB. Leaving out the bud question is an option, too. Parents can use the rose and the thorn questions until their child has a better understanding of time and can project their thoughts into the future.

What all three of these activities have in common is the potential to bypass the automatic communications that prevent parents from connecting with their kids around the day-to-day. In other words, no more "How was school today?"