How was your day in school, honey?
June 4, 2010 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Why are children so unwilling to tell their parents about their days in school? Is there a reason for this phenomenon, and does this phenomenon actually exist?

I am very much asking this question in seriousness, not as chatfilter.

I have noticed that many children - very young pre-schoolers to sullen high schoolers - are unwilling to answer their parents' queries about the school day. Not necessarily in a defiant or angry way, but just demonstrable resistance to recounting/describing the events the child experienced when directly asked.

Why do kids do this? Is this a boring question to children? Does it invade their sense of privacy? Is it defiance? Do kids just forget/not care?

I'm very interested in hearing from folks with psychology or education backgrounds offer perspectives.
posted by RajahKing to Education (54 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For most kids, school is mundane. That's it. It's not defiance, or rebellion, or a privacy thing. It really is that, on most days, they go to the same classes, interact with their peers, and learn (on occasion). It isn't the type of thing that really warrants a daily digest.
posted by litnerd at 6:06 AM on June 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Nthing what litnerd said. In addition, school is often a boring part of the day for many kids, and so they're not particularly eager to run through the whole day again in their head just to give a summary to their parents.
posted by philosophygeek at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Of course, not all kids do this. Some are very happy to share their daily experiences with their mom and dad. Those that aren't likely feel that school isn't really that interesting to them and they have no interest in reliving the experience after they are "free" for the day.

Think about it. What if someone you knew asked you to tell them if anything interesting happened at work today. You'd likely say no because most of the time it was a routine day where you did your job and moved on. You might even tire of the questions if they persist after that. I bet kids are the same way.
posted by inturnaround at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because kids have an innate ability to discern perfunctory passive-aggressive questions; and / or the kids have learned from past questioning that what they find interesting (Jared ate paste, Sally had a booger on her cheek all morning, Tad burped Ms. Jones' name when she wasn't looking and it upset her) probably isn't what their parents want to hear about (the details of long division were revealed in their awesome glory)?
posted by aught at 6:13 AM on June 4, 2010 [17 favorites]

The school day just happened, and it was most likely boring (and the interesting stuff, like Melissa and Chad are going out and Hailey told me their braces locked when they were making out and they had to call the fire department to unstick them, is generally considered not-parents'-business), and they just don't see the point of telling you the boring details of the day, which was pretty much exactly like every other school day. Like, they honestly don't think you'd actually be interested in what they did and learned.

I'm not a psychologist, but I suspect empathy and learning to see things from other peoples' perspectives develop much later in childhood than we assume, and this is just an example of that.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:15 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a teacher and this is one of the biggest complaints I get from parents: "When I ask them what happened today in school, they say 'Nothing.'"

I think there are a few reasons: the first is developmental. It can be hard for younger kids to summarize their day (the ability to sort chronologically or from best to worst can be difficult).

As their ability to summarize their day increases, often kids are just wiped out from their day and don't feel like rehashing it. They just want to forget it and move on to the next thing. Also, as they get older there's an element of parents not reacting as hoped to storytelling ("We had a sub and everyone went nuts..." and the parent's response is "I hope you weren't one of those kids," or if a kid says some other kid is being jerky and the parents overreact...this makes kids want to tell their parents a lot less).

For older kids, it can feel like an invasion of privacy and part of the need to separate from their parents can be satisfied by withholding information.

We often counsel parents to just ask kids to tell them one interesting, funny, or stupid thing that happened all day.
posted by dzaz at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2010 [25 favorites]

I'd agree with the boring, and not-shared interests bits, but I'd also add attention span for smaller children. School is boring and done, now it's time to play, why are you asking me about the boring thing? At that moment they may genuinely not be able to remember what they did at school.
posted by Coobeastie at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2010

I never wanted to answer this question because the answer was usually "I read fiction books in class while pretending to pay attention" and it was exhausting to make up a day's worth of non-proscribed activities.
posted by sid at 6:19 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that what happened at school is more often than not embarrassing and belittling. "At lunch I sat alone because I couldn't find the courage to talk to anyone." "I farted in gym class and everyone knew." "I got an erection in geometry at just the moment that I had to go up to the board." "I feel so left out because everyone but me has designer clothes." "I hate that girl that sits next to me because she's skinnier than I am." Nobody wants to say that shit out loud, especially not to their parents.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:19 AM on June 4, 2010 [12 favorites]

I can only recount this from my perspective, i dont know if that's helpful to you, but i definately remember getting asked this question as a kid and finding it irritating. I didn't often have anything to say because nothing particularly dramatic had happened, and recounting "well, we did this in maths and then i hung out with my friends at lunch and then i did more schoolwork" was really, really boring.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:19 AM on June 4, 2010

I think the better question is "Did anything interesting happen in school today?" That way, you are actively engaging the kid to come up with some sort of answer.

Of course, a lot of kids will say, "No."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:19 AM on June 4, 2010

This woman just wrote a book ("How was school today? Fine.") about the subject or more accurately how to start the conversation and elicit answers.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:20 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: for preschoolers I dont think its boring at all, they love it, but they live so much in the present that its not meaningful to recount the day. I get bits and pieces after a while.
posted by H. Roark at 6:20 AM on June 4, 2010

Because if you start talking about your school day, your parents will have a million follow-up questions and meanwhile you're really rather be thinking about paste/cartoons/Miley Cyrus/WoW/kissing.

By which I mean it's a thing that kids can control.
posted by desuetude at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding everything above, but I have something else to add. Namely, when I was a kid and my mom asked me about my day, if I had a particularly interesting chat with friends about whatever interested me then (mostly Star Wars,) she didn't really seem to listen or care that much. So, I just stopped telling her what was interesting in my day-to-day activities.

Not to be cynical or anything, but the stuff that parents are actually interested in (read: what you're learning now, how your classes are progressing) is boring to you and what is interesting to you (how fucking awesome Super Metroid is) doesn't interest your parents so it's just kind of, well, chatfiltery for parents to be asking their kids how their day went. They may be genuinely interested, they're just interested in the wrong stuff, to a kid.

My day was fine.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just like there are some adults that enjoy giving others a blow by blow account of their day at work and others will give highlights only when asked, some children keep this aspect of their lives to themselves. I have known children that give a complete rundown of their day to anyone who would listen and found it charming at first, but a bit wearing after a few days.

I have had non-divulgent children in my household and have found it helps when the right questions are asked, i.e. "How hard was it to find room for everyone's state projects" or "Do a lot of kids have that cough that's going around?". Other more clarifying questions can follow.

If you really want to know what goes on in your kid's school, volunteer even for just and hour at the beginning or end of a day. They are always looking for help from adults for reading comprehension exercizes, flash card math work, etc.
posted by readery at 6:26 AM on June 4, 2010

My dad changed the question when I was in my last two years of high school. He would walk me to my after school activities and we would chat about my day, usually along the lines of "what did you learn about today?" I actually found it really helpful to summarise the content of my classes. It did, I felt, help things stick in my mind a bit more. Doing this in a situation in which we had to talk (walking somewhere) also made this work.

Thanks, dad.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:26 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

This can happen because "Nothing" is a safer answer than detailing events, which, if you have just the wrong kind of parent, one or more of which may serve as an introductory foothold for some kind of lecture to come. Events which are interesting and/or memorable things to children and teenagers are generally not parent-approved things. Getting straight As could only prompt a curt nod which might be summarized as, "Today, this day, you have not failed me. As to tomorrow ..."

I suppose one could say "Father, I fully absorbed the lessons imparted to me by my teachers and my creativity was stimulated. In addition, I socialized well with my peers, though not so much as to impact learning. Later, I engaged in an after-school activity correlated with my future success" but "nothing" is a lot more succinct.
posted by adipocere at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: My soon-to-be 3rd grader does this, and it drives me crazy. I have been thinking it is some combination of biological development and social development. For instance, my son is like me, prone to live in the moment, and maybe it requires a certain skill to recall from an almost infinite data points of the data the information that warrants social discourse. I've been wondering if there's a kind of abstract thought that one develops, in other words, later, and so at early ages when you ask them about the day, they just don't quite get it. I also just wonder if it's a social thing. His dad is asking him about school, and is dad is starting to not be so cool.

Though when I ask him about how he did on a video game or what happened in a book he read, he's all talk, so I don't know about the "dad isn't cool" explanation.
posted by scunning at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2010

I suspect that "Nothing" is the child equivalent of "Fine"--as in, How was your day at work? Fine.

If something truly exciting, truly out of the ordinary happens, in my experience, kids want to talk about it. But if it's pretty much the same long day as usual, it's hard to pick out interesting things to share if a child is too young to have developed adult conversation skills. I can come home from the office and say, "My day was fine; I finished that project and had lunch with Susan" because I've learned how to talk like an adult, not because my project or my lunch was thrilling.

I also wonder if kids' responses would change if the question were more specific--"What are you learning about in your science class? Do you like it?"

Oh, but--there's also cultural stuff going on, too. Kids tend to practice their "cool" personas on their parents, so if they're learning that their peers think the teacher is boring, or that girls shouldn't like science, or whatever, they might practice that attitude on their parents ("Nothing happened, school is dumb!").
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could friend them on Facebook and find out their activities that way. Otherwise maybe it is in how you ask. Just asking "how was your day" is actually kind of lame and difficult to answer unless you just want a simple one-word answer. Try to not make it seem like an interrogation. If you already know their friends or school subjects or teachers, etc then it would make it easier to ask a question they might like to answer.

I remember most of my school days as being somewhat traumatic and soul-draining. It wasn't too pleasant to have to rehash that with my parents or anyone else for that matter.
posted by JJ86 at 6:35 AM on June 4, 2010

I mean, also, think about yourself at 13 or whatever - you were pretty selfish. We all were, more or less, it's part and parcel of that developmental stage. So you're going about your business at home, and mom is all like, " SO WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY, HONEY??" and your first reaction is something like, "If anything worth talking about had happened, I'd tell you on my own."

It's a version of WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS where "this" is "talk to you about boring, boring crap." I think my mom eventually went to, "Did anything interesting happen today?" which is much more "I'd like to know about anything interesting" than "ACCOUNT FOR YOUR TIME AND OR ENTERTAIN ME, SPROG." Just, if they say nothing interesting happened, leave it alone. You can then offer, well, today XYZ person came into the bank and threw a fit! or whatever happened, which might spark actual conversation. Or might not. Yay, adolescence!

No, it's not rational.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:39 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

With my small children I ask directed questions, like, "What did you do in math today?" or "Did you have PE?" That usually illicits the sorts of answers I'm looking for as a dad. The question, "What happened at school today?" is akin to "Tell me about yourself." It's very vague and is not easy for small ones to answer.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:40 AM on June 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

My mom still asks this when we talk on the phone, " How was work this week?" and my answer is still usually, "Okay, I guess." All the little details of every day are just not interesting to someone who doesn't know the people/places/projects you're talking about. In fact, it's frequently not interesting to me, so I have no desire to relive it.

In about K-2nd, though, I do recall a distinct element of it being kind of overwhelming to go back over my day and try to make a coherent narrative out of it.

Oh, and in 6th-8th, there was sometimes the issue of "I had no one to sit with at lunch and I think these girls were laughing at me and I'm super-self conscious about changing in gym and I was tardy to English because the mean kids were in front of my locker." Parental solutions to junior high problems were godawful, usually. The stuff that would work as an adult, i.e. "Why don't you just go introduce yourself to some people and sit down? You might make some new friends," definitely does not work the same way in middle school. Since parents always had such stupid or intrusive solutions to problems, you didn't really want to talk about the bad stuff, and not much good stuff happened (or they wouldn't appreciate it), so there really wasn't much left to say.

The stuff at school that makes an emotional impact is the schoolwork only about 1% of the time. Even then, it's not like you can tell your parents about it like you would impart interesting news stories as an adult, because you know they've already learned it themselves. They are not going to be interested in the battles of the Civil War or algebra.
posted by wending my way at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: I'm sort of at odds with many of the answers here.

My not-yet-four son started school this year; he's in 'nursery', which is the year before starting full-time school in the UK. Children start there at three years old, although parents can pretty much choose whether they attend for part or all of the week. They generally leave at lunchtime or after staying for lunch.

I noticed that, right from the first week, he didn't want to talk about what he did at school. Nor did any of his three or four friends who started at the same time. I ask him 'Did you have a good time at school today?', or 'Who did you play with at school?', or 'Did you have a story today?' and the answers I get are variations of 'n' and 'nothing'. I've learned not to press him too hard for answers and just slip a casual question in here or there and occasionally I'll strike it lucky and learn the name of a new friend or that so-and-so had to do 'time out' for pushing someone or whatever.

But it's not boredom, nor any fears about the consequence of answering. All of these kids will happily chat about whatever it was they did when they visited granny, or what they did at the park, or what they had for lunch at a friend's house. And I know for a fact that they do a lot of new, exciting, fun things at school. They come home with all kinds of stuff they've made, and get quite excited about going to school.

I've chatted with his teacher, and her explanation, which corresponds strongly with my own observations, is that going to school gives young children a degree of power over who knows what about their lives. As adults we're pretty used to compartmentalising our lives and adapting our behaviour to different groups in different situations (work/home being tha main divide). So I think it's probably a case of them developing that bit of human behaviour that keeps distinct parts of life separate by default.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2010 [12 favorites]

I agree with everything above. I remember very clearly the times (nearly every day) when my parents asked me how school was or what I did in school, and I remember why I didn't answer. To rehash:

- My ability to summarize hadn't yet matured.

- This was not the sort of conversation I was used to. My teachers never asked me "So, how are you liking school this year?" or "How are your other classes going?" and my friends certainly didn't question me this way. It seemed like odd, parent-only behavior.

- I lived much more in the present than I do as an adult. I didn't want to talk about school -- and it hurt my head to even think about school -- because I wasn't IN school at the moment.

- Honestly, when I thought back over the day, nothing came to mind. Just a dull, gray blur of sitting at a desk, doing stuff that bored me. To actually recall details, I had to strain. And it was fucking play time! I didn't want to strain during play time.

- It seemed like a stupid question: what did you do in school today? What do you THINK I did in school today? I went to first period, sat at my desk and did busy work; then I went to second period, sat at my desk and did busy work; etc. Each day was mostly like the day before; each hour was mostly like the hour before.

- Much of my day in school was spent waiting for school to end. Now it finally was over, and I had some serious playing to do. The last thing I wanted was to rehash my school day. As an adult, you can probably understand this. I know that sometimes we need to vent about work. But other times, it's the last thing we want to talk about. (We don't want to talk about work while we're hiking or watching the ballgame.)

- I suspected that it wasn't an innocent question. I knew that if I gave certain answers, they would lead to consequences. If I said a kid was bullying me, my dad might insist on speaking to that kid's parents, whereas I might want to deal with it myself. If I said I found math confusing, I knew this might lead to parent-teacher conferences or extra work for me. Had my parents given me the impression that they really just wanted to listen and that there wouldn't have been any consequences, then I might have told them.

NOTE: I'm sure this is frustrating as hell for parents, because if there are problems at school, those problems are probably at least somewhat solvable, but you need information to solve them. However, it wasn't until adulthood that I thought of problems as things you solved. As a kid, they were things you AVOIDED. So while my parents wanted info, I wanted escapism. Home time was the few hours each day I got to ESCAPE school problems.

- The only interesting part of school, for me, was my interaction with my peers. My parents had shown over and over that they didn't understand the nuances of those interactions. I felt that those interactions were private, but even if they weren't, I knew that if I talked to my parents about them, they would get things all muddled up -- and they'd give me "advice" that I didn't want and that wasn't applicable.

In 3rd grade, there was a girl in my school that almost no one liked. I'm sure she had problems at home or whatever, but those problems weren't my fault. No one liked her, because she was nasty to everyone.

My parents knew her parents, and they asked if we could give her a ride to school. When my mom told me we'd be taking this girl with us all week, I objected. I made the mistake of telling her that nobody liked this girl. What I meant was, "My dislike of her is not some weird quirk of mine. It's for a good reason, and lot's of other people would agree with me." But I wasn't very articulate at that age. So what I said was, "Mom! Everyone hates her."

This inflamed my mom's sympathy, and she demanded that I be nice to the girl and spend more time with her.

I'm not saying this was wrong. I'm sure the girl did need friends. (Though you can't really force friendship.) But I didn't want it, and it was more proof that I couldn't be honest with my parents about my social interactions. There would be consequences. So I learned to keep quiet.

One more example, just to show how unaligned parent understanding may be with child reality (not necessarily anyone's fault, but it is how things tend to go): I was a geeky kid who was also late going through puberty. In Junior High, I looked more child-like and scrawny than most of my peers. Many of the girls took this as an excuse to tease me.

The fake-flirted with me, put heavy lipstick on and kissed me on the cheek. They wrote me love letters, etc. I was supposed to act like one of those clueless TV geeks and really believe them. I was supposed to say, "G-g-gee Angie. I didn't know you liked me that way! Will you be my g-g-girlfriend," and then they would all REALLY have had something to laugh at. But I knew what their game was, and I was the furthest thing from being attracted to them. I hated them.

What I wanted most of all was to be left alone to hang out with my geeky friends. The girls (and the jocks who would tag along with them, snickering and calling me "fag") made my life hell.

In a rare cry for help, I talked to my mom about this. When she heard how the girls were treating me, she said, "Well, it sounds like they're maturing faster than you are." She thought they ACTUALLY found me attractive and were genuinely flirting with me, and that I was too young to understand it. She thought that the head-fucking-cheerleader was genuinely and PUBLICLY courting the geekiest geek in the school. Yeah, RIGHT, mom!

I never discussed this with her again.

- Often, I didn't really believe they cared. It seemed like the same sort of ritual as "How are you?" "I'm fine."
posted by grumblebee at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2010 [24 favorites]

I remember that my mother liked to walk up to the bus stop and catch me walking home. She said that I was always more talkative right after I got out of school -- and would give her a real answer to that question -- as opposed to if she didn't see me for a few hours. I would agree with the idea that perhaps children have short attention spans, but that's certainly not all of it.
posted by divide_by_cucumber at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2010

"If anything worth talking about had happened, I'd tell you on my own."

This is key. My friends and I NEVER asked each other "How was your day?" As kids, we announced information we wanted to share.
posted by grumblebee at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Apparently, my daughter always interpreted the question "how was your day?" to mean "did you behave?" Unfortunately I didn't find this out until high school, when she blew up at me because I never asked her about her writing or poetry or photography and I wasn't interested in her friends. That was exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to know when I said how was your day/how was school... I guess it never occurred to her to use it as an opening to tell me about the things she was excited about.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:11 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of grumblebee's answers and Rhomboid's are my own.

My mother was ridiculously intrusive and behaved as if my life were her personal sitcom. So if I mentioned someone just once she would never, ever forget anything I said. If I had a male friend, she would relentlessly speculate on our relationship and behave as if I were one step from being engaged to them. If I made the mistake of saying that someone had done something I didn't like, she would refuse to let me associate with them ever again. She would share her thoughts and opinions about my life with anyone she met, so bringing people over was just an exercise in her being indiscreet about my life with acquaintances and everyone who happened across her in our tiny town could get a complete bulletin on my life for free. She always had completely unworkable solutions to any problem I was having and wouldn't let her bright idea drop when I told her it wouldn't work.

I truly do love and am grateful for her, but she still does all this. The life lesson I learned was that you never tell anyone anything important you are thinking and feeling. That is not a good life lesson. Don't be like that.
posted by winna at 7:17 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

A. Being in school was painful persecution
B. Being at home was moreso

Why would I ever want to introduce A to B?
Divert, deflect, ignore.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 7:32 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I didn't think "What happened at school today?" meant, "I'm interested in hearing about your day and knowing more about your life".

I thought it meant, "You're still so young and immature that I need to keep tabs on everything you do, in order to check that you're acting acceptably".

School is one of the few places where a young child gets to make choices without parental supervision or comment, and to start stepping away from the apron strings.
posted by emilyw at 7:34 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

My 5-year-old daughter could give me a to-the-minute play by play of everything that happened to her in a day. She would remember what everyone was wearing, what their mood was and their part of the conversation.

My 8-year-old son's answer to "What did you do today?"


I find that asking more specific questions like "What did you read today?" or "What was the temperature at the weather station?" or "Did your friend DJ have any funny stories?" often got him talking more openly. He just isn't good with generalities, and I suspect as others have mentioned, he thinks I am asking if he got in trouble at all.
posted by thekilgore at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2010

Usually one or more of the following:

-Nothing interesting happened; school, like work, is often mundane and repetitive
-They resent you checking up on them
-They don't want to give you a toehold into asking more things about their life; they don't want to talk about their relationships, anxieties, fears and hopes with their parents
-School is often draining and sometimes borderline traumatic, they don't want to rehash unpleasant things; would you like to recount your latest prostate exam or performance review?
-Older teens may resent the overtly expressed power dynamic; I'm in charge and you have to report status when I demand
-They just got out of school and want or need to do other things, yet here you are wasting their time having to make bullshit small talk with their parents
posted by spaltavian at 7:56 AM on June 4, 2010

High risk (that your parent will freak out over something for no reason that you can understand), no real benefit. Staying quiet is the rational choice.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:57 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

My kids don't go to school, but they have activities away from me, for instance at conferences and festivals. I have found that straight-on questions about what they did, how it went, what they liked, etc. yield the usual "fine," "OK," "I guess" answers. But often over the weeks or even months following an event, they'll tell me stories about what they did, what was exciting, what they didn't like, usually at odd times like when we're riding in the car. I think the process if that they're just riding along, random thoughts drifting through their minds, and they remember this thing that happened and decide to tell me about it. So, my experience is that the direct questions are less useful than having opportunities to be doing something else (like the walks someone mentioned above) that allows space for talking.
posted by not that girl at 8:00 AM on June 4, 2010

I didn't get this much as a child, perhaps because I was in a parochial school that didn't have much of a program for the kids who learned faster except "sit in the back and read." After the second year of "I read in the back of the room after I finished all my worksheets," the questions dwindled. As I got into high school, my mom began to ask about individual classes or activities, which was a bit easier, and sometimes led into meaningful conversations where I figured out how to handle problems - so, definitely nthing that approach.

In college, I talked to her on the phone fairly frequently (long distance in the days before cellphones, ack). When I was going through her stuff after she died, I found out that she had been taking notes while we talked - and worse, she saved them. It was like finding a weird diary written in third-person about every boy I'd ever met. so don't do that.
posted by catlet at 8:01 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with the folks who say that the ability to summarize or answer in a socially acceptable manner is a big component. There are also other elements, some of which have been mentioned.

I have one kid who is very reticent and private, and I think she genuinely thinks that what happened in school is her turf and her business and why should she be expected to tell us? (Every now and then something REALLY interesting will happen, like her field trip yesterday, and she'll speak up on her own, but usually if we ask her directly, we'll get "mmph." More specific questions than "how was your day" help sometimes, but not always.

Her older sister is very transparent and far more social. She'll usually volunteer information on her own (it's hard to shut her up and let the other one get a word in edgewise, in fact). That can actually lead to an interesting dynamic: if we ask what happened in school, she'll seem vaguely insulted because we're already supposed to know all about it, through a weird combination of what she's already told us (believe me, she expects us to remember every detail!) and the sense that we will somehow osmotically know anyway (after all, we've been in school, so we should know what happened--why is her experience any different?).

The "what parents think is interesting vs. what kids think is interesting" might well come into play also. I remember that my parents always used to ask me what my friends' parents did for work. I would never have any idea because I would never even think to ask--parents were not a particularly interesting component of our world. I have made sure NEVER to ask that question to my kids.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:12 AM on June 4, 2010

When asked about his day my six year old son basis his opinion on the entire day on what happened in the last five minutes. Someone shoved him while lining up to leave? Bad day. He saw a butterfly while walking towards me? Good day. My ten year old is more discerning, but still, hugely relevant pieces of information don't get passed to me. I remember school as boring, boring, boring.
posted by saucysault at 8:28 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to when when I was younger as I don't remember those feelings. I can for when I hit high school though.

It's the same feeling I get when somebody ask how work is now. Most days there just isn't anything to report. For work, I went to the office, checked some email, did the same thing I do most other days, and come home. The same went for school. I went to school, talked with some friends, went to class, took some notes, and came home.

That's just my personal experience. For others it could be defiance, avoidance, or a matter of privacy. But for me, it was just that nothing out of the ordinary happened just like most days in everybody else's lives.
posted by damionbroadaway at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2010

I find that a direct question to my preschooler - ie; "What to did you bring to school this morning?" on toy-days or "Did you have fish for lunch?" tends to open the floodgates to all sorts of stories from my daughter :
"Yes, we had fish and Linus threw a potato over Lisas head and teacher got mad but then the fire alarm went off and I was first out in the yard but I forgot my teddybear but did have my shoes Lisa forgot her shoes and they wouldn't let me go back in and get teddybear so we played on swings and I fell and hurt my knee so I got band-aid and then daddy came to pick me up he got teddybear and we had ice-cream and now we have dinner oh nom nom nom"
I never interrupt when she does this because it's hilarious, and don't want her to ever stop telling me about her day. Try a direct question, see where it leads you.
posted by dabitch at 8:43 AM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Because sufficient unto each day is the evil thereof.
posted by tel3path at 9:50 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Part of communicating well is fostering a comfortable environment for sharing that communication. There's a world of difference between a classroom-like "tell me about your day" in a formal setting and chatting about whatever comes to mind while hanging out in the back yard or the kitchen together.

Making sure you really listen helps a lot, too. It's hard to relate to someone whose world is as different from your own as a child's is from an adult's: it takes effort, attention, and an open mind.

Even in conversation with your own peers, how much of your time is spent listening to what they're saying versus formulating your own responses? It's okay to take time to think about what someone's telling you, to not jump on what they're sharing with an immediate response. It's not so great to split your attention with something unrelated to the conversation and fail to hear what you're being told.

About once a week (it was oftener when he was younger) I specifically ask my teenage child if there's anything formally school-related I should know about. The rest of the time, I sometimes ask about specific things I know are going on (right now, prep for the year-end school assembly) and mostly just keep the lines of communication open whether it's about the latest Gaga-inspired video or Magic or who's being particularly cool or butt-headed and what life as a teenager is about today.
posted by thatdawnperson at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2010

Yeah, I think for the most part it's just that school can be as much of a grind as a grown-up day-job. That day when the Duncan Yo-Yo tour or the Benjamin Franklin impersonator came through? That was interesting... but for me most of the rest of the time was spent doing just doing classwork and trying to avoid being teased and/or bullied.
posted by usonian at 10:15 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: I'm a therapist, and the majority of the work I do is with girls in the K-12 range. Most of my clients tell me what's going on in their school lives, and most of it has to do with social relationships (younger kids, and especially-academically-focused kids love to talk about what they learned, but these kids don't tend to be the majority, or maybe they are but the rigidity of the school system burns that out of them right quick). A lot of parents react very sharply to their kids' social interactions because of anxieties about how their kid will be seen by others (and how their parenting will be seen by others), and a lot of parents tend to take it upon themselves to give advice, which sometimes feels to kids like telling them they're doing something wrong. Here are some things I see extremely commonly:

- if she says, "a kid was mean to me", her parents are likely to ask why the kid was mean to her, and further ask what she did to provoke the kid to be mean to her, or some parents will tell their kids to empathize with the mean kid and not blame them for being so mean... all of these options feel very minimizing
- if she says, "I was mean to a kid", her parents will freak out
- if she says, "well Alyssa and Jasmine are in a fight, and I was being a messenger between them", her parents will say that she needs to stick up for herself and not get involved in their fight (ignoring that she is possibly worried that her friends are fighting and she may lose one or both of them in the process)
- if she says, "I sat alone at lunch... no one likes me", her parents will say, "well you have to be more outgoing and just walk up to someone and say hi!" (without understanding the full implications, like that the popular kids are probably already saying awful things about this girl and making fun of her, and other kids in the class are probably under enough influence of the popular kids that they'll reject any social advances from her because of the ridicule it might get them... and I know every parent believes their kid is somehow immune to popularity/social pressure, but no, s/he's not)
- if she says, "I'm sad/upset/mad" then parents will pursue even more questioning and she will probably get overwhelmed very quickly

I mean, these are just a few things that I see very often. Parents' best bet, often times, is to maintain the open kind of communication that encourages kids to share with them. This kind of communication is achieved by not blaming, not pushing, not badgering, not overloading with "do this" advice, and just open and active listening. Teens are a whole other story, but if parents can build this type of communication from the beginning, it's a lot more likely that even teens can be more open with their lives and communication too, because they see their parents as supportive, not punitive.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2010 [11 favorites]

I never asked her about her writing or poetry or photography and I wasn't interested in her friends. That was exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to know when I said how was your day/how was school..
I'm an adult, and I'd never guess that if you asked me how my day/work was, you wanted to know about my friends or specific activities.

I agree with the others: specific questions work better - adult or child.
posted by canine epigram at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2010

Grownups almost never asked me about the things I was obviously interested it. Though I would spend hours reading a comic-book series, no one ever said, "So what's that about?" If I came back from playing hide-and-seek in the back yard, no one asked, "Did you come up with any really good hiding places?"

Mostly, grownups asked me about stuff that was "good for me" and "bad for me." Safety stuff, education stuff, etc. I understood what was going on. And it felt like, "You don't really care about me as a person -- you just care about me as a zoo animal that you're in charge of."

This might have been only partially true or not true at all. It's possible that the grownups were asking me about school because they assumed that, since it took up so much of my day, it was important to me. But to my child brain, it seemed like it was just important to THEM. They made me go to school; they asked me about it; None of it was my idea or what I wanted to do.

"What happened at school today?" sounded more like, "How do you like your vegetables?" than "How do you like your cake?"
posted by grumblebee at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2010

This past Take-Your-Child-To-Work-Day I was doing a presentation for a group of children of coworkers. One of the little girls raised her hand and laid this nugget of wisdom on me:

"We're only 9 years old. Why are we talking about work?"

School is the kid version of work. Its what they do every day and its routine to them so nothing stands out to describe, unless its the day of a field trip or something. If your kid has "specials" or whatever your district calls them (i mean things like art, music, computers, "fun" not-everyday classes). Ask them what they did in that since it's the least likely to have a real answer of "well i sat and listened to the teacher talk then I did a worksheet".
posted by WeekendJen at 11:02 AM on June 4, 2010

so_gracefully just recreated the reason I didn't talk about my days as a pre-teen at the dinner table.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2010

More specific questions... no. Every day, I would be in my own headspace, thinking intently about something that had NOTHING TO DO with school.

Then my mother would demand, "What subjects have you got in school tomorrow?" There was no logistical reason for this that I could see, it was just her way of punching a hole into my well-being.

I am sure she didn't mean any harm.
posted by tel3path at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a kid, if you've got the wrong sort of parents, it's easy to feel like you're not allowed to have a private life, so you have to do whatever you possibly can to protect it. To me, the problem with those questions was always that I wasn't allowed to not answer them, because my mom would get really angry with me if I didn't, so the second-best option was to barely answer them, which only made her sort of mad.

At least for me, when I give a really simple answer to a question, it usually means that the subject is complicated and I don't think the person I'm talking to will understand that. I will volunteer more information in five minutes of silence on the other person's part--because it allows me to frame what I'm saying how I need to--than I will in a year's worth of pointed questioning.

In healthy relationships you can just say, "I don't feel like talking about that right now." But in my experience, there are a lot of people who take clearly-drawn boundaries as a challenge or an affront to their authority or whatever. How many parents would honestly back off if their kid answered "How was school today?" with: "I don't want to talk about it right now"?
posted by colfax at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2010

For me, it was more of a matter being utterly uninterested in small talk.I don't talk about my workday even now because it's boring, and please don't drone on about yours, either. I do not care what somebody said at your meeting this morning. I don't mean to be unfriendly. I just think that people tend to fall into one of two categories: people who talk about events, and people who like to talk about ideas.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:59 AM on June 4, 2010

I always like to ask my elementary aged-daughters who they played with during recess. They are usually likely to regale me with stories of playground drama. They seem much more interested in friendships than anything that really happens in the classroom.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:45 PM on June 4, 2010

For me, grade school was a combination of the war of all against all and prison.

I didn't tell my parents about it, because I had done plenty of terrible stuff they knew about already, and I didn't think they could take much more.
posted by jamjam at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2010

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