The After School Talk

2015-08-24 23.48.06For some, you’ve already made it through the first day of school. For others, there are still a couple of weeks to go. Either way, the first day of school is a day met with mixed emotions for parents and students. Some parents are eager for their children to go back to school while others want the summer to stretch on just a little bit longer. I must confess, I know way  more parents who are counting down the days of summer to END rather than hoping for a stretch… just saying.

But as much as you’re excited to send them off, anxieties tend to swell up as they come home from that first day. Anxieties, not for the student, but instead, mostly for the parent. One of the hardest parts of the day for parents is the after school talk. You are interested in every detail of the day and the young person you keep food in the refrigerator for is sometimes uncooperative and gives you the dreadful one word answers to your well-intended questions. You know how it goes:

Cheerful parent: How was school today!?!?

Less-than-cheerful Young Person: Great.

Still-holding-on-to the-cheer Parent: Did anyone say anything about your new outfit? You looked so great today.

Still-unenthusiastic YP: No? (Yes, a question mark, as in, “Why are you asking me that. We don’t do that,” even though they do!)

Cheerful-but-losing-some-of-the-cheer Parent: Well, were you happy to see your friends after the long summer?

No-sign-of-enthusiasm-now-texting-with-friends YP: Yes.

Annoyed-sick-of-trying Parent: Well, ok. Glad you had a good day. 

End of the conversation.

Trust me, as an educator for over twenty years and a youth life coach, I’ve been there! At times, young people can be so disinterested, especially when adults are excited. But, I don’t think it’s intentional. I think they want to share, but deep down, they don’t know how to meet our expectations, even when asked questions. The good news is there is a way to avoid the one word response conversation, besides throwing their cell phones out of the window. Here are three questions to ignite a more meaningful conversation with your young person after school:

  1. What’s the best thing that happened at school today?
  2. What is something you wish you could do over?
  3. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

First, what was the best thing that happened at school today? This question moves us away from the “how was your day” question. You want more than a one word answer. You’ve been thinking about them all day and you deserve more than one word. Because all of us aren’t the most talkative people, we have to be strategic in how we pull out the information. Trust me, nagging doesn’t help, tried that last year. Sanity and strategy says ask a different question and see if we get better results. What was the best thing that happened at school today?

This question also helps your young person reflect on their day, which is meeting a fundamental youth need. Every young person needs to have a place to reflect and process, be it with you, in a journal or to their friends. A way to help meet that need is to ask the right questions.

Secondly, what is something you wish you could do over? Again, reflective time. The truth is, for some students, they won’t have anything to do over, school was perfect, and everything was great! But for some, there may be something, a small thing, they wish they could do again.

It could be she wished she’d sat with the new girl at lunch, but she didn’t know if her friends would be receptive. Or it could be he wished he’d asked to change his locker. He would like a top one because he grew a lot over the summer and having to bend to the bottom locker may be extremely uncomfortable all year.

What’s great is that when they share information with you, it gives you a chance to see if they need your help, need your advice or just sharing. Most of the time, they’re just sharing and are not crying out for a save. In other words, slow down before calling the Principal to demand a new locker because your son “will NOT be mistreated by having the bottom locker! He grew 6 inches this summer and this is just unacceptable!” (I’m sure you wouldn’t do that, it’s just an example).

While you’re listening, pay attention to body language, tone, and direct ask for help. Did he say “Mom, could you call to see if I can get a new locker?” Before calling, ask if he talked to someone about the locker change. You want to hear how he has advocated for himself. If he hasn’t, it’s a wonderful way to make the suggestion. As you know, this is especially important especially as they get older.

And the example with lunch? Ask her about what she could do tomorrow, to see if she’ll sit with the new person. She is obviously thinking about it so it’s an entry for more dialogue. This is an awesome time to point out all the wonderful characteristics you know to be true about her that she may have forgotten on the first day. What is something you wish you could do over?

Finally, what are you looking forward to tomorrow? Ask what they’re looking forward to and be okay with the fact that it may not be a deep answer. They may be excited about pizza day tomorrow or going to their favorite chemistry class. The goal is for you to hear what your young person is looking forward to regarding school. Now for some, the answer will be there are only 11 more days until Labor Day break. Hey, that’s still something to look forward to so we’ll celebrate it all!

The great thing about the first day of school, is the second day, the third day, the fifth week, the sixth month and so on. In other words, it keeps going. And just like school, so will your conversations, especially when you ask the right questions and open the door for dialogue.

And by the way, these questions are great throughout the school year. The more you ask, hopefully the more you’ll see the conversation shift and perhaps instead of you initiating, your young person will initiate. Wouldn’t that be simply marvelous?

Until next time, I wish you more Marvelous Mondays and an awesome rest of the week!


More Dialogue:
1. What’s the best thing that happened for you today?
2. What would you do over?
3. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
4.  What other questions would you add to the list?

Feel free to comment below (way below) or email Shanterra  

  4 comments for “The After School Talk

  1. Brandi
    August 26, 2015 at 2:22 am

    Thank you!!! I can’t wait to share this post with my HYPE parents and friends. And since you asked, here is a little about my day.

    1. The best thing that happened today was I showed up on time and ready for all my meetings. I visualized it would happen today and It did!! That meant I couldn’t go back for or do/get JUST ONE MORE THING!

    2. I would so do over our bedtime routine with my 2 and 5 year old. Earlier they go, the better. I just have to stay focused to get them bathed, fed, brush teeth, story time, prayers and bed.

    3. I am looking forward to meeting with a committee member of the Houston’s division of My Brother’s Keeper Initiative tomorrow.

    4. Additional questions?? Hmmm…my young person is 5 and when I asked what song she sang in music today, it opened the window to talk about everything. I also like to ask who in the class seemed to had a similar day as hers or a different day and why? I used it a lot with my teenager and it worked well because he enjoyed talking about others, but I could tell what related to him.

    • August 27, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment! I hope your bed time routine is getting better. Be gentle with yourself as its only the first week of school 🙂 and I love the idea of asking what song was sang in music!! That’s a great idea!

  2. September 15, 2015 at 5:53 am


    Love the post. Love the wisdom, the simplicity, and the thoughtful explanations. I thought I had my “check-in” questions down pat but after reading your post… well… let’s just say that mine are refreshed! 😉

    • September 15, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Yes!!! Awesome to hear!!

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