How to talk to kids about school

Parents, if you were asked every day, “How was work?” would you give thoughtful, detailed answers every time? Chances are that as the question becomes more routine, so do your answers. Without something noteworthy to report, we’re likely to come back with a short, unrevealing response.

But what if someone routinely asked you questions that built on what you’d discussed before, like:

“How’d your meeting with the new supplier go?”
“Did you have a nice lunch with your team today?”
“I know you were worried about filling that position. Has anyone promising applied yet?”

You’d probably be a lot less likely to brush it off with a one-word answer.

Thoughtful questions get more thoughtful answers. They show that the asker has been paying attention and is genuinely interested. And they open up the chance to actually discuss something substantive.

So if your kids regularly respond to the question, “How was school today?” with the seemingly teenage mandated response of “fine” or “good,” try asking better questions, like:

“Do you like having a class with that much discussion?”
“That’s great that you have a favorite teacher. What makes her better for you than the others?”
“Which classes have more of your favorite students in them?
“If you could pick one class to attend every day, which one would you pick?”
“What would you change about your school if you were in charge?”

Notice that none of the questions have to do with grades or performance. That’s intentional. Most teenagers—even those who don’t do well academically—know that grades are important. Kids are graded, measured, evaluated, and compared enough as it is without asking them to recount all of it once they get home.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t or shouldn’t ever talk about grades. But the more you talk about performance, the less likely your student will be to cultivate that curiosity and love of learning that colleges find so appealing. As Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California and author of Emotions, Learning, and the Brain says in this article, “Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest and tying their experience to grades.”