Motherhood

The #1 Question to Get Kids Talking About School

The #1 Question to Get Kids Talking About School

It works every time…

Every night, I’m hungry like the wolf to hear about my boys’ days, but they always sit at dinner with blank faces and zero stories to tell. Once I read that asking your young child about their busy day at school is like asking an adult, “How were the last 20 years of your life?” Still, we’ve asked some questions over the years that yield pretty good results:

— What did you do at recess?
— What did you play during choice time?
— What book did your teacher read?
— What art did you do today?
— What snack did your class have?
— If you were going to invite someone for a sleepover, who would it be?

But, when you’re really in a pinch, there’s one question that ALWAYS works:

“Who got in trouble today?”

My kids LOVE talking about this. It’s exciting! It’s dramatic! It leads to more stories! Often the answer is themselves for being silly (Anton calls himself a “jokemaster”) or their friends for funny reasons. It also opens the door to talking about empathy and feelings. The question isn’t something you’d want to ask all the time, of course, but when you’re desperate, it delivers.

Update: In the comments, some readers — including teachers — said this question might be misconstrued or even harmful. My eyes were opened and I now agree with them! Please see the thoughtful discourse below, and thank you so much, always, for teaching me every day.

What questions do you ask kids about their days? I’d love to hear…

P.S. Kids in conversation, and how to get kids to talk at dinner.

  1. zivar says...

    i have a 4 year old daughter. she tells me about school here and there but i also notice her desire to talk about things other than school when she is with me. as if school is her own, separate world. just for her. she goes to a montessori school which definitely encourages this boundary.

    my suggestion? let your child lead you into questions or discussions, simply listening and letting them guide us is best and also reminds them that we respect their process without rushing them. no need to ask so many questions and assume our kids need prompts. i feel this is like being forced to be in school after school.

  2. When my kids were younger, I thought it was tough getting a detailed response from them. We had the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the day and they seemed to respond better to that. But nothing prepared me for the preteen and teen years. The other day I asked my 15 year old, “What did you do today?” and she responded, “Good.” Wait, WHAT?? That’s not even a response! What question did I ask that made her think that was the most accurate answer to give me?? So, what I have found that works best (especially for this age group) is modeling. My husband and will typically start off dinner talking about our days and my 3 kids quickly jump in with theirs. The conversation flows more organically and we get way more information out of them. Great topic!

  3. Alex says...

    I’m thankful for the thoughtful comments and Joanna’s openness to them. I have never asked my pre-kindergardener this question, but I know that unfortunately she wouldn’t understand that I’m really asking “who was silly today?” For a period of about 6 months, she volunteered to me that a girl who I’ll call G was getting into all sorts of trouble and was doing things that bothered her and others. Now, G is actually one of my daughter’s best buddies in class, but still my daughter liked to tattle on her to me at the end of the day. What my daughter doesn’t understand is that G has cerebral palsy and associated mental and social developmental delays. I did my best to explain to my daughter that everyone learns and develops a bit differently, so if G has a hard time sitting still, paying attention, etc., that’s ok, she’ll learn at her own pace. In the meantime, don’t give her a hard time about it, just continue to be her friend as she learns these things at her own pace.

  4. BeverlyO says...

    Thank you so much for letting us all learn and think and digest other perspectives. And for encouraging conversation with littles – no matter the age of the younger-than-me person might be.

  5. Jenna says...

    I’ve never posted a comment before but had to share something I learned from my son’s kindergarten teacher. During school, she’d ask each kid to share a high, low or gratitude. We copied her idea and each share one over dinner each night. That was two years ago and it is still a great way to share about our day. I once even got an unprompted gratitude for being ‘the best mom’. You can bet I emailed the teacher and told her my gratitude that day was for her!

  6. Ingrid says...

    Joanna, I’m so glad you had the courage to keep this post up. There is so much kindness and empathy shown in all the comments. We all have so much to learn from each other’s views. Hugs to you all!

  7. BeverlySomething says...

    I’m an aunt, so I think sometimes it’s easier for me to getting my nieces and nephews to open up, because I don’t see them every day (and because – even though I’m 33 (and a half, they would add) years old – they still think of me as just a half-way adult. A few years ago, I was going to lunch with my sister-in-law and one of my nieces and afterwards we brought lunch to my brother, at work. My niece didn’t want to go in, so the two of us sat in the car and she was getting soooo bored and we just weren’t clicking with the conversation. I saw a man walking into a building with a brown paper bag and just said, “Huh. I wonder what that man’s bringing to lunch?” and we riffed on that for a good 15-20 minutes. We imagined what every single person, in every single office brought to lunch, who made it for them, if they’re sharing with anyone, whether they’re friends with her dad, what kind of candy they’ll hand out on Halloween, etc. We still play that game now, although sometimes it’s what their teachers are eating for dinner, or what their principal is watching on TV, what their parents are talking about on their date night. We try to come up with the most outrageous answers. A very sweet effect of what started as a moment of desperation is that it makes them think about the people who aren’t with them. It always warms my heart when they contemplate what kind of ice cream their great grandparents are eating during Wheel of Fortune, or if their great aunt is coloring, what medium she’s using, and which coloring book is she coloring in. I work overnights, and it COMPLETELY boggles their mind that I eat my lunch around 2 am, but it makes my night when i get a text from my brother during their bed time asking what i brought for lunch.

    Another thing that almost always works for me to get them talking is to challenge them to teach me something I don’t know. Just re-wording “what did you learn today?” produces so many more responses. Sometimes it’s something about multiplying fractions and sometimes it’s “Did you know that Miss Elizabeth’s mom teaches YOGA???? YOGA! How do you get that job??” Kids are the best.

  8. Jinny says...

    At bedtime each night my kids and I talk about our favorite, least favorite, and “middle” part of the day. I started off a year ago asking their favorite and least favorite parts, and recently my 7 year old suggested we add a middle part. When I asked her what she meant she explained, “something that was both good and bad.” It’s opened up the conversation so much more. My middle part of the day is often grocery shopping. I’m grateful I can easily buy food for us, but I don’t like going to the grocery store! I’m glad they get to talk about their middle part of the day every day. So much of life is the middle part!

  9. Ellen Brown says...

    I used to ask my son about his ‘high’ and ‘low’ points of the day. This typically got him to talking and not only about good things.

    He’s 25 now and when he’s over for dinner, I still ask him and he plays along :)

    • Shira says...

      We do this with my kids, but we call them “boo-hoos” (the low point) and “woo-hoos” (the high point).

  10. My eldest son’s nursery teacher told me once that instead of asking a direct question, you can try ‘wondering aloud’ – it worked very well for my son who would never tell me anything about his day!! As in, “I wonder if anyone played outside today?” Or “I wonder if anyone had a good lunch today?” – often they will be just desperate to fill in the gaps for you! I’ve employed this often in the eight years since with our four other kids and it’s still just as successful:)

  11. mina says...

    I also struggle with getting some details of their days out of my three kids (9, 7.5 and almost 6 years old). Sometimes I’ll ask them crazy stuff like “how was the ice cream you had at lunch?”, “what did you do after you went to the zoo?”, and “was it fun playing with grandpa at recess?” and end up getting great answers like “we didn’t have ice cream for lunch, we had spaghetti and so-and-so sucked it through the gap in his front teeth and we talked about XYZ”, and “we didn’t go to the zoo, but we did go to the woods, and I saw a bird that was XYZ and played with so-and-so” and “I didn’t play with grandpa at recess, but I did play with so-and-so and we got into an argument about XYZ but we worked it out.”

  12. The question that almost always works for us is “Did anything funny happen today?” The silly stories that come pouring out often don’t make any sense (definitely a “you had to be there” thing), but the kids light up telling them! For many years, we did a nightly “Bloom, Thorn, Bud” conversation at the dinner table to rehash the day: something you liked (bloom), something you didn’t (thorn) and something you are looking forward to (bud). The dinner table routine of this faded, but my older daughter liked it so much that she maintains the practice as a journal before bed to clear her head and end the day on a high note.

  13. Sara says...

    This is pure genius! Thank you for sharing the idea!

  14. sdp says...

    What a graceful response, Joanna! Thanks for a space where we all can learn.

  15. Anna says...

    I am grateful this post is back up as I didn’t see it originally. The thoughtful comments in response to what seemed, to me, a fairly innocuous posting have all made me think, so I’m grateful for them, too.

    However, am I the only one who thinks that some of the alternative suggestions put waaaay too much pressure on kids to be paragons of virtue at school? ‘How were you kind today? How did you help today? How were you a leader?’ I was super well behaved at school but would have balked and honestly, rebelled at the notion that I had to recount my virtues on a daily basis. I believe kids don’t learn from us telling them things anyway – they learn from our modelling behaviour. So surely it’s better for us as parents to just BE kind, be helpful, be leaders, and let school remain the domain of children? These types of questions seem laden with pressure to me, and way too helicopter-y. I trust the teachers at my daughter’s school to let me know if anything’s gone wrong, and beyond that, if she wants to share, that’s her prerogative. I wouldn’t force my husband to recount his exemplary qualities to me of an evening so what on earth gives me the right to force my daughter? Maybe she had an average day and just muddled through and you know what, that is absolutely fine.

    • agnes says...

      I completely agree with you Anna but couldn’t find the right words.

    • Erin Riley says...

      Yes to all of this and the fact that the post is back up!

    • Justine says...

      Thanks for this response. I also wondered the same.

    • Anna says...

      1000%

    • Lottie says...

      Three cheers for Anna! I agree wholeheartedly!

      I very much support the underlying and kind intention of these alternative questions and those who suggest them — but we are not living on the set of in 7th Heaven. I grew up in a home that espoused these principles, and I think my parents did a great job (if I do say so myself, ha) with my siblings and I, but we would have broken down laughing if anyone asked “how were you a thoughtful leader” or “who was the kindest person in class today?” at the dinner table. No need to focus on kids who may have struggles for whatever reason, but the alternative does not have to be over-the-top virtuousness, either.

    • mina says...

      YES!

    • E says...

      I completely agree. My kids are kind, respectful and empathetic, but at the end of each day we need some humour and casual chats over a meal. If anything was particularly good or bad they always share, but I think children learn virtue through example and conversations in the right time and place, not heavy-handedness. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in the UK for so long, but the overt, enthusiastic virtuousness expected from kids in some comments gave me a chuckle.

  16. Adele says...

    Not wanting to shut anyone down about this (and I think all of your responses are valid) but maybe asking who got into trouble isn’t such a bad thing if it can open up a discourse that covers issues of why a child may have got into trouble? It could be a way of encouraging children to show empathy or maybe even question the reason behind rules. I know this is only my perspective and there are many people out there that may use this question to start judgment on others but in the right environment it can be used to encourage a more inquisitive and open mind.

    • sdp says...

      love this perspective.

  17. Bonnie says...

    Thank you for your considerate response, Jo. I appreciate you!

  18. agnes says...

    I was worried when I couldn’t see the post anymore! Thank you so much for being such a thoughtful editor. Sometimes we just need to take the time to think and that’s what you did. Bravo.

  19. Allison says...

    I appreciate the thoughtful perspective.

    On the drive home from school, for my three year old I ask him “Did you feel happy today?”, “Did you feel sad today?”, “Did you get angry today?”, “Did you laugh today?” – I have to ask each one separately – and follow up with “what happened?” Sometimes he feels like talking and sometimes (most times) he doesn’t – but sometimes he is bursting to tell me he was angry when so-and-so didn’t share or some other incident before I even get to that feeling! I think it is nice for him to know he has space to talk when he needs it.

    I also remember reading on this blog how nice it is to talk in the car (one of the your friends’ mom stories – food blogger?) – even at three I think it is true – I turn the music down, roll down the windows, and just wait for him to tell me a story – much easier than at home thinking of all the *things* I need to do instead of sit still.

  20. Sarah says...

    I have tried this question, and all the ones on the list, but have found that a smile and hug is the best reception for young kids. I get more thoughts from the girls by not asking any questions but just remaining ready to listen and respond to whatever they want to offer up. Because who knows when you’ll get a request to “tell you a secret in your ear” to bend over and hear whispered “sometimes Ryan puts play dough in his mouth!”

  21. Devon Treharne says...

    Joanna, seeing this post back up with your addendum reminds me why I have returned to this blog nearly every day for many years. Thank you for listening and being as willing to learn as you are to teach.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much, i truly have learned so much from these insightful and caring readers. Xo

    • cecile says...

      Joanna, of all the inspiring things you’ve done and written, this may have been the most inspiring to me – the way you dealt with your readers openly criticising your advice. I’d really love to read a post on how this may have surprised you (and hurt your ego), how you proceeded from there, and how you deal with criticism in general. Thank you so much. xoxo

  22. Em says...

    Thanks for putting this post back up, Joanna! I was sorry to lose the chance to keep learning from all the thoughtful comments (and it seemed a shame to have all that “emotional labor” deleted). Thanks so much!

  23. EH says...

    When my son was in early elementary, there was a girl in his class who would come up to me nearly every single day and report to me what she thought my son had done wrong that day. These wouldn’t even be things he did to her, just her “helpful” observations (he wore his shoes on the rug, he wasn’t in line). His teacher noticed this and let me know that she is talking with the kids about how getting something “wrong” in behavior is the same learning process as struggling to figure out math or language. No parent would ask, Who flunked the math test today?

    Another thing to consider is that often times kids get into trouble when other kids tell on them. For better or worse, my child doesn’t immediately go to a teacher when something is wrong or done to him. Just know that a child who gets in “trouble” more might be having their own struggles with kids doing things to them too, they’re just not making it into something a teacher addresses or becomes something the whole class is privy to. I’m not saying one way is better or worse, just kids have different ways of dealing with things—but those ways may end up making some kids look like problems and others kids not even if that isn’t the whole truth.

  24. Tracy says...

    I think that question is brilliant! Made me smile.

    My son is three and I gave up on “How was (pre)school today?” But he always has an answer for: “Did anyone cry today?”, “Was anyone missing?”, and “Did you play with play doh?”

    • Sarah Beth says...

      My daughter, who is newly 4, also loves “was anyone missing.” The comings and goings of her preschool friends is a hot conversation topic– Emily had a fever! Riley takes the bus from a new school at lunch time! etc etc. Somehow she always knows why they weren’t there that day, which leads me to think this is a good exercise in stretching her imagination, too!

  25. Abesha1 says...

    I might have found this funny, too… before I had brown school-aged kids.

    If your only experience of your kid getting in trouble is them being told they’re too silly, sure, this could be funny. But the reality for way too many kids in this country is quite different… when police can be called on a small child whose only crime is having a darker skin that leads to assumptions and prejudice, “getting in trouble” suddenly has a very different meaning.

    • Whitney says...

      Thank you, Abesha1. I agree, as the aunt of Black boys (who have experienced a lot of trauma in their short lives), I’ve seen too many times teachers offer diagnoses of ADHD and single out their normal kid behavior as “bad.” Teaching white kids to be allies and have empathy is a responsibility of white parents in addition to holding schools responsible for their disciplinary practices.

    • Hannah says...

      Dear Abesha1 and Whitney,
      I don’t know if you’ll see this, but thank you THANK YOU for this comment. We would all love to believe that racism doesn’t affect our kids at school, but of course that’s not the reality. When taken from this perspective, what some commenters have labeled an “innocuous” comment shows itself for what it really is – as one way target and stigmatize the “bad” kids, which is a label that all too often lines up with the Black and brown faces in the room. As a white teacher, and a mom, I appreciate the work you’re doing to help others understand what it’s like to parent Black and brown kids in school, when I’m sure you’d rather be — well, just parenting those kiddos! Thank you.

  26. Heather D says...

    I will echo what others have said about asking who got in trouble. It bugs me. I’m an adopted mom of a little boy who came from a terrible, traumatic home. His life experiences have caused him to act and react quite differently than other children his age. His teachers and helpers are all on board and wonderful, but the kids don’t understand why he has meltdowns. It breaks my heart to think of the conversations at other people’s dining room tables, talking about my kid who might have thrown toys or refused to stand in line at lunchtime, not knowing why he behaves as he does.

    I urge everyone to be more sensitive to the kids who are in trouble. You never know what they’ve been through.

    • Kristin Hicks says...

      Heather, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry your little boy has had a difficult past, that’s heartbreaking but I’m glad he’s in a happier home now. It’s interesting to think from your perspective about how upsetting it is to think of his meltdowns being topics of conversation for his classmates’ families. My daughter often unprompted tells the stories of kids (often the same one or two of them) who “didn’t listen” that day at school. We try to direct the conversation to one of empathy for those kids, “wow, sounds like a hard day for ___, I wonder if there was something else really bothering him” or how she might be kind to that kid the next day. I see those conversations as opportunities to grow and not to ridicule those who are struggling. She’s only 5 so her default is “___ was BAD today” so I welcome the opportunity to build a little more complexity into her mind about “bad” kids. I don’t know, does that make sense? I too would HATE to think of other families talking about my kid in an unsympathetic way.

  27. Donna says...

    “Five Things!” It became a ritual at our house. I’d ask my son to tell me Five Things about his day, only one of the Things had to be totally NOT true. I’d have to guess which Thing he’d fabricated. And along the way, I got to hear four things that happened at school that day. He enjoyed me trying to figure out which one thing he had made up. When he was older, he’d come home and say, “Five Things!” to me and I would get to tell about MY day.

    • Paula says...

      That’s such a good idea!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love this idea!

    • Allegra LaViola says...

      saving this for when my kid can talk !!!

    • Heather says...

      Based on your suggestion we’ve been using this all week with our girls (4 and 3) and they love it! They ask us to do it too and get a kick out of guessing which is many true – thanks so much for sharing!

      And as always, thanks to Jo for her thoughtful response to the comments here – it was a great lesson to me as well.

    • Ramya says...

      Genius!!!

  28. Sarah says...

    I’m a teacher. I was a fairly docile student. One thing I have learned as an adult and educator is that behavior is learned, and in the same way that we teach reading or math or art, we teach behavior. In the same way that we work to normalize mistake-making as part of the learning process for these more academic subjects, normalizing mistake-making with behavior lowers the threshold for children to be able to grow and evolve. I can think of times and ways to ask this question that make learning possible and hopeful, and ways that stigmatize and reinforce excluding children who struggle — even if the intent of the question is benign. I’m appreciative of this discussion for helping me think about how I talk to my own kids about other kids, and how important it is to humanize kids who get in trouble at school, particularly as kids get older. Cute and impish in little ones reads differently in teens.

    • Sarz says...

      Sarah, thanks for offering a different, thoughtful perspective! As much as I appreciate a conversation starter with the kids in my life, I recall the socially anxious child I once was. Of course this question wouldn’t necessarily lead to a lifetime of gossiping, but I want to do what I can to ease the passage of other kids who struggle. How we guide the conversation could make all the difference!

  29. Anna says...

    I think this is a wonderful question and smiled when I read it.

    Having open dialogue with your kids from an early age lowers the barrier for when they are teenagers, especially if you handle the conversations largely in listening mode and a non-reactive, non-judgmental way. (I see it as open dialogue – not gossip – as I think gossip relates more to rumors or suppositions versus things my children have actually witnessed and experienced first hand.)

    I remember as a child my truly wonderful mom would react with so much emotion – elation, sadness, disappointment, anger – if I relayed information about myself or my friends, that at a certain point I limited sharing with her, because her reaction in and of itself felt like something to manage.

    I would have loved if she had asked me “Who got in trouble today?” and I could have told her, and she could have calmly and actively listened and helped me process my feelings around what happened. Just the act of her asking in an intentional way would have taken the taboo / shame off myriad topics and allowed for a more authentic and complex interaction.

    As a mother I now understand that this kind of listening is much easier said than done, but I do hope to have this kind of relationship with my young daughters and think the “trouble” question fosters it.

    It helps them see and gauge how I react to controversial things, and I expect if they see me react with compassion and understanding to the “small” preschool problems that they will internalize that this is how I will react and be more likely to open up to me in the future.

  30. Whitney says...

    The question that is guaranteed to get my 3 and 5yo daughters talking is “who farted at school today?” Often they self declare if they passed any wind and then it opens up a whole conversation about the other activities at school.

    • Anna says...

      this is great. and the answer in my house would always be my 4 year old. :)

  31. Izabela says...

    hi, this is so true… I wish you could’ve had kids in the same age as mine (15 boy, 12 girl) and you would have written then about them. because your advise and kindness and sensitivity and empathy is so dear to me…. and I could read sth also for me to practice and use:) I was never lucky to gather around people, well – women, of thinking similar to mine, that would go the same direction. this is why I read all of it with a big hunger…

  32. Carolyn says...

    A friend once told me about a dinnertime ritual in her family growing up: going around the table each person shares their rose (favorite part of the day), thorn (worst), and bud (thing they’re looking forward to tomorrow). Clearly I had to borrow this for my own family, and my 4-year-old always, always manages to have answers for each. I love the peek into her perspective and there’s always plenty of fodder in there for more conversation. An added bonus is that now she also LOVES asking the questions, and gets so curious about everyone else’s days and feelings too.

    • mina says...

      We do this! Often we’ve hardly started dinner before somebody wants to “tell their rose”.

  33. Emma says...

    Reading many of the comments on here, I think that the innocence of the original post highlights a certain level of privilege… where “trouble” often equates to silly hijinks. In that context, it’s almost like asking “who was entertaining today?” or “who did something funny?” (Which would maybe be a lighter way of getting a peak into the “drama.”)

    It’s sad and sobering that so many kids, even really young ones!, are in situations where they’re being labeled “bad” or getting suspended and facing harsh consequences for actions that are most likely symptoms of bigger struggles. To be able to see “trouble” as lighthearted and funny is itself a privilege…

    • Jo says...

      Well said.

    • Angela says...

      Hi Emma. I am one of the privileged. Thank you for pointing this out and opening my eyes. I am currently reading through the comments and see how lucky I am to not be faced with the inequality and stigma mentioned here. Please know that I am going to do better and I will continue to turn towards learning instead of having my feelings hurt when I am called to account. “Trouble” in my house did mean something minor or silly, but I can see now how that plays out differently.

  34. Babs says...

    These comments are fascinating. The post is how to get your child to talk about their day, not how to get your kid to answer a question you feel comfortable asking. I remember as a kid recognizing the glaring inequities in our rural, economically depressed school – different kids with different clothes were assigned seats at the back of the room where they often fell asleep; they had blue lunch tickets instead of green (back in the day, can you tell) indicating they were on “assisted” lunch; these same kids “got in trouble” more often. If an adult had asked me, “Who got in trouble?” that’s a question I would have known how to answer because that’s kid speak. I would have loved to talk about what I saw and what I noticed and to follow up with my own questions about why. But if an adult had tried to lead me first with, “What did you do that was kind?” I never would have gotten there – I just would have answered whatever it was I knew the adult wanted to hear.

    • Allyn says...

      Agreed

    • Whitney says...

      I think there’s a big difference in helping kids unpack injustice that they’re witnessing in a classroom and asking the question for the purpose of having a funny conversation. Nothing in the original post indicates this is part of a deeper conversation about race, gender, wealth, and privilege, but I do think it’s worth talking about with kids.

  35. Agnes says...

    As a child therapist, I often hear from parents that they don’t know what to say / ask to get their kids to open up, particularly boys. Honestly, when I’ve just finished work for the day, it’s the last thing I want to talk about! One thing that seems to work is talking about anything BUT school when you pick them up. And the lack of eye contact while driving seems less threatening and helps to open up conversation too. Ask them about their plans for the evening (haha) or what they hope to do this weekend, or something funny the dog did that day, or a news item you saw that might interest them. Just general conversation, NOT about school. They might get around to telling you what happened at school if it’s important enough to relay. Also, maybe singing along in the car? Music on and no pressure to answer questions in detail right away? Just throwing a few ideas out there which may or may not work. Good luck :)

  36. Emily says...

    I’ve found a few tricks work for my pre-teen. I’ve learned I have to shift/morph as he shifts and morphs because as he ages, my questions can feel more intrusive. But so far I’ve learned that eating together at night as a family often inspires conversation. I’m less concerned with what we talk about and more concerned that we are talking.

    I’ve also found that being side by side as opposed to across from one another inspires talking-so sometimes if we are walking or if we are sitting side by side reading or even if I am driving and he is riding beside me he seems more inclined to talk to me.

    I remember very keenly when my child was a baby his pediatrician told me the most important thing we could do as parents was to try to eat together each night. While schedules don’t allow this every night, we attempt it most nights and I have to say, the doctor was right!

  37. Cheryl says...

    For our high-schoolers the favorite question was, “What was the weirdest thing you saw today?” We also kept at least one science magazine on the dining room table (and often a copy of the most recent Darwin Awards) to spark conversation with our teen boys.
    [The Darwin Awards are awarded to people, generally posthumously, for removing themselves from the gene pool in a ridiculous way.]

  38. Sara says...

    During Back to School Night, I got copies of the 2nd grade and 3rd grade schedules and they are on the fridge. My boys’ like to look at the schedule as they are having breakfast and see what’s happening that day. It’s been a great tool for me to ask them questions about their day. What did you work on in writing today? Did you get to do math centers? What book did you pick out at the library? Being specific about questions helps my kids talk and share details. I NEVER ask about other kids. If they want to bring something up about someone else, they can and we can talk about it, but I don’t think it’s any of my business to be nosy about other kids. Also…when the boys leave the house, after I tell them I love them, I always remind them to be sweet to their teachers. Being a teacher is HARD and reminding them that teachers are people with feelings who have good and bad days is important.

    • Sil says...

      Be sweet to their teachers, that’s so important!

  39. Alexa says...

    Yes! Before Christmas my four year old gave me frequent (and unprompted!) reports of when her preschool teacher was personally phoning Santa to tell him about a classmate’s bad behavior.

  40. Emily says...

    I don’t remember how my parents started this but every day, and I mean EVERY DAY, that I lived at home (until 22), I gave a detailed and specific play-by-play of my day. For example “at 7AM, my alarm went off, at 7:02AM, I walked to the bathroom…” all the way until I got home.

    This would take the ENTIRE dinner and by the time we got to my brother he would just go “uh whatever, it was fine.” Worked for me but probably not the rest of the family’s favorite hahaha.

  41. Jenny M says...

    I have tried asking “tell me one thing that did happen at school today and one that did NOT happen and I’ll guess which one is true”. Works sometimes!

    • Laura says...

      We do that too! We play 2 truths and a lie at dinner, with everyone participating.

    • Sil says...

      Brilliant!

  42. Tiffany says...

    Brilliant! Four daughters – all in school – and I’ve never thought to ask this ?

  43. Justine says...

    I wonder if anyone else on this board doesn’t worry too much about quizzing or questioning their children about school? I’ve found that my now teenage child has always viewed after school questions as really intrusive and annoying, since he’s burnt out from his day and just wants to chill out. I stick with a general how was your day, and if he wants to talk he does. He knows I’m interested if he wants to share, and try to create lots of space in our time together for him to share when and if he is ready.

    • Marcella says...

      Yes! I remember being in 7th grade (and hating every minute of it basically) and getting in the car and my mom asking “so how was school?” to which I would sigh “fine.” Lol. It was just a rough time in my life being bullied + dealing with shitty middle school problems that I really didn’t want to talk about it right when I got in the car.

    • Mary says...

      I’ve got a 7th grade teen and a 3rd grader with emotional behavior disabilities. I wouldn’t want to be bombarded with questions about my day at work when I got home, so I try to remember that when the questions are on my lips! Usually, if something really interesting or dramatic has occurred, or if they feel an injustice, I get lots of details.

  44. Kat says...

    As a teacher, this kind of dialogue, “who got in trouble today?” is troubling. Not to reiterate the comments of others, but so often “getting in trouble” comes from society’s tendencies to “wrong” cultural differences of behavior or action. Furthermore, in elementary education when students are not as cognizant of social/behavioral differences amongst their peers (ADD, autism spectrum disorders, Tourettes Syndrome, etc.) the question “who got in trouble today” can lead youngsters to see differences as negatives that lead to trouble. This seems contradictory to the generally positive and inclusive space that I typically associate with this site. Let’s create a society where we are more accepting of others. I’m sad and surprised to see this type of question posted on this site.

  45. Renee says...

    My son is clinically anxious, and was always wiped out by the end of the day. We talked about the school day as part of our bedtime routine, after he’d had time to decompress and was more relaxed.

    Also, I’m a psychologist, and my sweet nieces would always talk about the troublemakers in their class at school. Smaller town, but I frequently knew the child and their story (which of course I could not share). Always made my heart hurt, and I would redirect them to a gentler topic of conversation.

    • Emily says...

      I appreciate your comment and the kindness with which it was written.

    • Paige says...

      This is really important. Thank you for sharing it, Renee. While joking about troublemakers at school can seem lighthearted, it’s important to teach compassion and empathy for those whose stories we do not know.

  46. f says...

    At dinner, we try to go around the table and share “What was the best part of your day? What was the worst?” My 6 and 3 year old usually can reflect and tell me their highlights and lowlights of the day. My husband and I also share our answers so that it’s more a discussion for all!

  47. Megan says...

    We often do Rose, Thorn, Seed. The Rose is a something good that happened, the thorn was something bad or not great, and the seed is something to look foreword to. We don’t have to have one of each but it sometimes makes for interesting information or some laughs.

    • AM says...

      This is something my 8 year old daughter often initiates. It’s her way of making space to tell us something hard, usually. She learned it in school, and I love that she uses it now.

    • Jill says...

      Rose thorn seed!? Brilliant!! <3

    • yella says...

      We also do Rose, Thorn and Bud at dinnertime. It always yields some pretty earnest sharing from my 3 and 5 year old daughters. This ritual allows us to stop and let each person be seen and honored each day and is really one of my favorites.

  48. Hanh vu says...

    My kids are still young (2 and 4). I ask a subset of these questions. They don’t always participate, but these are the questions I ask:
    – what made you happy today?
    – what made you sad?
    – who was nice to you today?
    – who wasn’t nice to you today?
    – what kind thing did you do today,
    – what thing did you that you shouldn’t have?

    • Heather says...

      My son is 4 and I’m going to use these questions! I’m often at a loss when I pick him up for preschool. I love your ideas.

  49. Bethany says...

    No, no, no.
    I love CoJ but as a teacher this suggestion hurt my heart so much. A few thoughts:
    1. As someone else already mentioned, the ‘trouble’ kids generally are ‘bad’ because they’re processing through awful external circumstances. None of these kids want to be seen as trouble kids, they just don’t know how else to get what they need when the world is too much for them.
    2. Unless you are in the classroom with your child all day, there is no way to know if they’re telling the whole story about any situation. I have received more calls and emails from parents who believe that their child always knows the whole story, but who in actuality knows very little. I spend way too much of my (very little) planning time (and evenings!) communicating with these parents, assuring them that discipline was given while also gently reminding them that their child isn’t omniscient and didn’t communicate the whole situation.
    3. I also second the comment about this becoming gossip for two reasons. First being that if other parents think a certain kid is ‘trouble’, that kid is less likely to be invited into many social situations, which will only serve to further isolate the ‘bad’ kid from his/her peers and exacerbate any current behavior problems. Second is that kids trust adults (most of the time!) if the ‘bad’ kid hears adults talking about them in negative terms, they’ll begin to believe that’s who they really are!

    If you want to hear about some of the more squirrelly moments during your child’s school day, maybe instead ask questions about who might need extra kindness or patience the next day, and then follow up questions about how your child knows they need this. Frame your conversation in terms that praise your child’s ability to notice other kids’ emotions and ways to care for their peers, not focusing on the ‘bad’ (or perceived ‘bad’) things the other kid did.

    • Devon says...

      As a fellow teacher, thank you Bethany!
      That kid who “got in trouble today?”
      Her parents are going through a divorce.
      He forgot to take his medicine this morning.
      She is autistic.
      He just had his feelings hurt by a friend…
      Let’s not focus on “troublemakers,” let’s focus on being helpers and friends to all.

    • NN says...

      This is helpful. I’m glad I was able to read Joanna’s suggestions (and I am sure that she is encouraging empathy with her boys!) and also really, really grateful to read your response. I love the suggestion about thinking about who could use a little extra kindness. I think it might be good, too, to talk to our children about what it means to get in trouble and how Doing wrong things is not the same as Being a bad person. It’s a tough concept to get, maybe, but I do think it might be worth while. Having said that, my kid is only 18 months old, and holy smokes am I learning every day that raising a kind and loving human is HARD WORK. I am grateful to posts like this to help me process it all!

    • Heather D says...

      I’m glad you spoke up, Bethany. As the mother of an adopted foster son from a traumatic, violent previous environment – he is sometimes the “bad” kid. His previous experiences cause him to react differently to situations than other children, often landing him in time-out or with his little nose against the wall at school. His teachers are in the loop and very patient and understanding, but I can only imagine how many stories he’d be in if other parents asked this question to their kids.

    • Bonnie Fortune says...

      This is so great Bethany. I am also an educator and I love your suggestions at the bottom to turn the question around to build empathy skills.

    • Jill says...

      What a wonderful response to a seemingly simple topic of discussion!

    • Emily says...

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful and helpful response, Bethany. My son is at the age where he is just starting to want to talk about his day at preschool, and your post is a helpful reminder on how to frame these conversations and focus on empathy.

    • Amy says...

      Thanks Bethany; I really appreciate this response. I definitely try to ask specific questions about their day as Joanna suggested, but after growing up in a small school (grad class of 23 kids; 13 I had been through all 13 years of school with) it’s so easy to see how kids get labels and carry them through their lives even if they’ve clearly changed significantly.

      I definitely get how Joanna intended the “trouble” question – not at all maliciously, simply as a goofy way to spark conversation and even opening the door to suggesting ways to act with more empathy towards kids who are struggling, but my kids think very black-and-white at this age (8 and 6) and I’m not sure I could effectively use this particular question in a constructive enough way.

  50. Jemma says...

    Yes! I had to change my habit of asking, “what did you do at school today?” because it would elicit answers like: “Nothing.” or “I don’t remember.” (How can you not remember, it literally just happened?!!)

    So I usually ask about who she sat with at lunch/breakfast (our school has free hot breakfast for early drop off kids), who did she play with at recess, did she make up a new game at recess – it’s all about eating or playing!!!

    I actually love finding out about her social interactions during the school day because I’m a total introvert and had like 2 friends throughout my school years, whereas she will chat with anyone and everyone. She gets hugs and high-fives from all the cafeteria staff, and will wave hello to random kids from all year levels, who will turn out to be new friends she made during early drop off.

    It’s a part of her day that even her class teachers don’t know a lot about, so I’m glad I learned to change my end of day question to something she could feel excited to talk about.

  51. Sitting around the dinner table we always discussed the best things to happen that day as well as the worst.

  52. sarah says...

    I ask, “who did something nice today” or “who did something funny?” x

    • Sarah says...

      As a teacher I agree that “who got in trouble” is problematic. As a parent, I’ve absolutely used that. And once, the answer was “me!” I love reframing the question as “did some kids struggle today? With what? How did you help?” Or “what made you laugh today?” Or we often do the thorn, rose, rosebud thing with “what annoyed you” (thorn” “what made you beam” (rose) and “what are you looking forward to” (rosebud). I also have learned that any school questions should not be issued the minute you are reunited with your kids. Let them play, process, be present with you first. Then later, at a lull, maybe pose a question or two. And volunteer your own day’s trials to model how the small talk goes!

    • Heidi says...

      I like this better than asking who was in trouble that day. It puts a more positive spin on the day and feels like it might be less gossipy.

  53. cate says...

    Your comment made me so happy that you exist; it’s so thoughtful and loving. I didn’t take the idea as a negative one though – there’s a good chance the drama and the child’s interest in it is there, whether we talk about it or not. Finding out what the drama was at school gives you a chance to have a conversation about it and maybe broaden your kid’s mind or encourage them to help out in some way.

    • Catherine says...

      The thing it’s not like they saw a movie with a conflict and then they can discuss it. They very likely don’t have all the context. They’re likely to share just aspects of the story and you don’t know any of the story so it’s actually hard to discuss and learn from something you both don’t fully understand.

  54. Johanna says...

    In an effort to get our kids to ask us and each other questions at dinner, we’ve landed on “what did you have for lunch?” as an opener. Usually the kids can remember what they ate!

  55. We always ask two questions at the dinner table: “What was your favorite part of the day?” and “What did you try and fail at today?” On a not-so-great day, a favorite part might be something as minute as ‘the five minutes I laid in bed after my alarm went off’ (this has been the answer before), and the second question focuses on working, attempting new things, risking, getting up and trying again, etc. It’ll sometimes be a math problem, sometimes striking up a conversation with someone, sometimes walking down the hall and not realizing your shoelaces were untied.

    The other key is, EVERYONE answers, even the adults. Helps the kids we all have good and not-so-good days, and we’re all constantly trying and failing and getting back up again.

  56. Emily says...

    Maybe reframe the question as “Who was having trouble today”?

    Then talk about it with them within a framework of empathy rather than gossip.

  57. Erin says...

    I completely agree with you, Dana. My children attend a very diverse city school with many students who come from homes where they deal with a lot of trauma. These students are also often in trouble at school. My rule-following child already tells me when those students get in trouble, which leads to me trying to help him understand why it might be hard for them to sit still/listen/play well with others at school. Trauma-informed teaching is a big topic in education right now, but parents also need to help their children develop compassion and tools for students dealing with trauma (or who have special needs) rather than encouraging them to point fingers or gossip.

    • Angela says...

      Not specifically to you, but I came up on something I could not explain to my children this weekend. I just could not find the words! (When I’m asked)I take great care to explain different abilities when we see someone out using a wheelchair or cane, etc. This weekend we saw an teenage boy at a check out counter and my kids noticed him because he was visibly frustrated, stamping his feet, yelling, and unable to communicate his feelings. Thankfully, my two 4 year olds waited until we were in private to ask why he was yelling? Was he yelling at that woman (checking him out)? Why was he upset?

      I had no idea how to explain that some people have trouble regulating their voices or experience tics when stressed or over taxed or outbursts vs the tantrums they are familiar with? Or even that I had no idea his specific issues, but xyz… Any help or advice would be appreciated regarding communicating special needs to young children. I’ve read that mothers of children with differing abilities love opportunities to have dialogue, rather than their child being gawked at or spoken of, instead of spoken to. However, this situation seemed so stressful for his mother accompanying him. I’d love to be equipped enough to speak to my kids about less visible issues. They understand wheelchairs and canes or working dogs, but I have no idea on how talk about more nuanced things like autism or mental deficits or behavioral issues, etc.

  58. D'Rae says...

    I, too, have reservations on focusing attention on trouble. Thinking back to the wonderful quote Mr Rogers said about looking for the helpers during a difficult situation – there are always helpers. I would suggest asking children how did you help today? Or who did you help and why? Knowing it may be asked again someday, perhaps they will watch for opportunities, and/or notice when others do it.

    • Sandra says...

      I love this!!!!

  59. jane says...

    I used to hate that question because absolutely nothing interesting happened – school was just the most boring day ever for me – and being forced to admit that when I had no say in correcting it was just brutal. If I’d had more conscious parents they would have moved me to a more challenging school or curriculum – and eventually it did happen that the teachers noticed I needed more challenging coursework – but it took years – what a waste!

    Parents, please pay attention if your child is disengaged – it’s a red flag that either they are bored or something else is going on. It’s not optimal.

  60. The Analog House says...

    My 8 year old and I play a quiz at night before bed. I hold up 5 fingers and ask her to rate her favorite during the day: recess, lunch, math, art, bus, etc. As she picks, I start asking her about each one. She loves it and it’s a great way for me to hear about her day.

  61. Amy says...

    ALOL! This approach has worked for our fam too.

  62. Ashley says...

    I agree I want to hear about my kids’ day and get some insight into their lives, but I don’t like the idea of fostering gossip. Later when they are in middle and high school we’ll spend our energy convincing the kids that gossip is hurtful and unproductive. Why start them out early with a mindset you’ll have to work to undo later??

    I love all the first questions and we use them too! I also will give them a task at the beginning of the day to search out something: the new kid’s name, so and so’s birthday, teacher’s shirt color…. They’re always happy to report back if they remembered the task! And the easy “win” takes the pressure off before they launch into other topics.

  63. Megan says...

    Love this! I ask the easy questions —“Who’d you sit next to at lunch today?”, “What game did you play in gym class?”, etc right after school and at dinner. Then at bedtime the heavier questions and info usually come out — “were you happy today”, “did you get along with friends today”. The deeper chats always happen one-on-one while delaying bedtime. ?

  64. Adrienne says...

    Agree with the comments that it seems hurtful to encourage kids to talk about other kids who got “in trouble,” especially as if it’s exciting and worthy of dinner table gossip. Makes me sad to think about a child who had a rough day being talked about by peers he or she may consider (and/or need!) as friends.

    • Sara DeRose says...

      I second what you’ve said. I think that is a terrible way to teach kids to focus on the negative and to gossip about others. However, the other questions from the post are all great ones to ask.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback! usually when we ask our kids, they’ll tell stories about how they or their friends got in trouble for being silly (anton calls himself a “jokemaster”). it’s never anything serious. but i hear you about how it could get negative in some situations. thank you again for your feedback xo

  65. Bridget says...

    We really like Adam Grant’s parenting advice around creating kind human beings, so we have started asking my 5 year old twin boys what they did that was kind today? Recently one pointed out a kindness that the other showed and we all went wild! I’m hoping it shows them that at the end of the day, what we care about is that they are loving, good people. But we also ask who they are lunch with, what snacks were good, if they played games outside? :)

  66. Maria says...

    Our family usually catches up once Dad gets home and we sit down for dinner together. We go around and each person tells what their “Rose, thorn and bud” was for the day. Your favorite part of the day, a tough part and something you’re looking forward to. I also find that waiting for kids to decompress from the day and not asking straight after school or the moment they get home helps…

  67. Bridget says...

    Based on reading one of my fave parents, Adam Grant, we have started asking our boys “who were you kind to today?” Or “what did you do that was kind today?” To try to cultivate kindness. We put a lot of emphasis on achievement inadvertently, so I feel like this is a way for us to tell our boys that we value and notice kindness. The other night, one twin pointed out a kindness that the other displayed and we all went wild. :) we also ask about who they ate with at lunch and what snacks people brought.

    • t says...

      We tried asking this question but our kids couldn’t remember specific kind moments. It garnered the same results as “how was school?”

      With our 6 year olds we need to ask very specific questions about such as did you have art today or what did you do in PE or what did you eat for lunch.

  68. Melissa says...

    Perhaps parents will lead the conversation more towards a lesson in perspective rather than gossiping about who got in trouble. This question of “who got in trouble?” seems like a great opportunity to not gossip, but rather to talk about our differences, how we can support someone that may be struggling, how we don’t know what we don’t know, etc.

  69. Rachel says...

    As a mother of a child with special needs who often gets in “trouble” for reasons beyond his control, that last question hurt my heart. My son has to work so hard everyday, and often comes home stressed out and anxious about mistakes he made with his classmates and worried that they won’t forgive him or that they think he is a bad kid. I would hate to think of other parents encouraging their kids to discuss classmates who got in trouble that day as that could lead to labeling of otherwise sweet kids who happen to slip up once in a while.

    • t says...

      While I completely agree with you it can also open the door to have that discussion about why a particular child got in trouble, what he or she might be going through and how to be empathetic about it.

      My twins were once complaining about a classmate they felt was a troublemaker. I asked the teacher about the child and learned he is in a very difficult home situation and doesn’t have some coping skills that a more mature little boy might have. Without gossiping we were able to relate what he is going through to our children and now they don’t complain about him.

    • Amanda says...

      Rachel,
      I have this exact experience with my kiddo! Thanks for sharing this, and you are not alone!
      xo

  70. China Hoffman says...

    I have used a variation of this with my first-grader where I ask her if anyone did anything silly that day – which for first graders is usually the main thing they get in trouble for! I can understand people being sensitive about it, but I actually think it is really important to talk about, because if you don’t, your kids will almost certainly start equating behavior with character. When my daughter tells us about kids getting in trouble, we often use it as an opportunity to point out that bad behavior doesn’t make someone a bad kid, and that everyone makes mistakes or does the wrong thing sometimes. Obviously you are relying on parents taking the high road with their kids, but aren’t we all relying on that anyway? When my daughter was in kindergarten we wound up having an ongoing conversations about the fact that she noticed that the black kids in her class, particularly the boys, frequently got in trouble for behavior that she was able to “get away with” and how that wasn’t fair. I think it helped her maintain friendships with kids in her class that did struggle with appropriate behavior, because she was able to purposefully focus on the times they behaved well and had fun together, rather than the times that they yelled, didn’t pay attention, etc.

    • Angela says...

      My kids love to talk about who got in trouble that day. It’s always a conversation starter, as opposed to some of the other questions mentioned. It isn’t typically a knock against the offending party, as it is just as likely to be one of them. More often than not, it relates back to why we need sleep or why we need to pay attention to instructions or how adults are there to keep us safe and help when we need it. Also, we talk about sharing (or someone who doesn’t share) and how others may not have siblings and may not be as practiced at it. I completely agree, that kids should never be labeled as “bad” but rather learning to do their best. In our house we know everyone has rough days where we are not our best selves, parents included. I like what you’ve added and think we can talk more about showing kindness, empathy, and forgiveness to others.

  71. Jill says...

    We got family TABLETOPICS cards as a gift at Christmas and my kids LOVE answering the questions and hearing our answers. They can’t wait to pop the cube on the table and argue over who gets to read the question. It gets them chatting and excited for mealtime convo!

  72. Kelsi says...

    As I teacher, I would truly caution emphasizing the drama of who “got in trouble”. That is ‘othering’ and kids grab onto labels like that like flypaper. We need to teach our kids to be empathetic and that everyone is still learning. There are many different learners out there and many invisible disabilities.

    I would advise instead saying something like -“who had a hard time today?” Then follow up with”how can you help them tomorrow?”.

  73. Elizabeth says...

    I appreciate all of the comments and suggestions. We often rely on three questions: “How were you kind today,” “How were you brave today,” and “How did you fail today.” Of course my husband and I try to answer as well. Not only do we get to hear about highs and lows, but we have an opportunity to encourage or offer advice.

  74. Chrissie says...

    “WHO GOT IN TROUBLE TODAY” IS ALWAYS A WINNER!!

    Another thing I do with my three kids (13, 10 and 6) is if they are really stuck on something or they’re fighting and I need to distract them, I’ll say: “want to hear a really sad/embarrassing story from when I was a kid?” I then tell them some funny, not too sad, embarrassing story (being embarrassed in front of a crush, for example) and they pay attention like I’ve hypnotized them. It’s great!

  75. Benita says...

    I heard these in an NPR story and use them often:
    – How were you kind?
    – How were you brave?
    – How did you fail?

    You can ask one, two or all or let your child choose. It’s a great way to start a conversation and to hear about the day from their perspective.

    • t says...

      These questions are too general for my little kids. They need more targeted questions: what book did you read, what did you eat at lunch, who did you sit next to.

  76. K says...

    One night at church someone was running behind and we had to stall with a group of 3 year olds. I was running out of ideas, but another teacher had the most brilliant question for them: “so, who has a boo-boo?”

    They all wanted to show their bandaids and tell their dramatic injury stories!

    • Heather says...

      As a mama of two young boys, this had me laughing so much! Even unasked my 4-year-old will show you every little scab and scar as if they happened yesterday and then he’ll tell you all about the bee that stung him on the thumb that one summer. ?

    • AM says...

      Love this! My three year old always wants to talk about her boo-boos! This also reminded me of another age-specific question. As a librarian, I like to ask kindergarten and first-graders, “Who has lost a tooth?”. This opens up conversations about wiggly teeth, tooth fairy presents, and how they lost their teeth! It’s a great conversation opener!

  77. Lee says...

    My husband used to lead outdoor trips for youth (ages 5th grade and up) and he always used “rose, bud, and thorn” when out on the trail. Sometimes when we’ve had a long day and don’t want to talk we also use it! Rose–what is something that went well today. Bud–what are you excited about that is “blooming.” Thorn–what didn’t go well today. Of course, it is always nice to end on Bud!

  78. Lara says...

    Lol! 100% :) Especially works for my 3 y.o. in preschool.

  79. melz says...

    As an educator another question, “How were you a leader in your classroom today”?

    • Bonnie says...

      Oh yes so much more positive!

    • Sara says...

      That question sounds like a job interview, not like something my parents would ask me over lasagna! Maybe in France it’s a different vibe though?

    • Joaquina says...

      Hm…as a very shy and anxiety-ridden child, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with an answer to that question. It sounds like something an adult can easily answer, but can a child? Also it’s pretty culturally-specific.
      In my family’s culture, we don’t revere being a “leader” at school, it’s more about being part of the group.

    • Courtney says...

      I agree with Joaquina. And it kind of sounds like a question you’re supposed to write an essay about.

    • Hanh vu says...

      That question would stress me out. ?

  80. Robin W says...

    Love this! Several years ago, I started asking “what happened at recess today?” and it absolutely got my daughter talking, and gave me a glimpse into the things that matter to HER, such as friends, activities, etc. Now that she’s older and in high school, I ask “who did you sit with at lunch today?” or “what happened at lunch today?”, it still gets her talking!

    • jules says...

      this made me think how it’s definitely important that the kinds of questions your asking/that work are the ones that are targeted toward your own child’s interests. Some kids would love to talk about recess and lunch but others may like to forget and talk about their subject classes.

  81. Madeleine says...

    Love this. Today the answer is “me!”. I am still laughing about an email I got from 8yo son’s teacher, warning me that he and another child both got into trouble for “rough play” at playtime. She explained that my son was bitten, but that there was no visible mark and he seemed ok- indeed he told her that “it was a just a nibble”. NBD. He and the other child are buddies again and bemused by it all.

    • Nikki says...

      THANK YOU FOR NOT OVERREACTING AND SEEING THE HUMOR! As a teacher- those phone calls are terrible. I’ve had parents call the police and threaten assault of another child over rough play. Seriously, both kids were fine and buddies again and bemused by it all. Parents- threatened legal action.
      – A 3rd grade teacher

    • jane says...

      Imagine that – boys in “trouble” for rough play, lol. Yikes. I’d keep my eye on that teacher, personally. If she was incapable of discerning that the boys worked it out on their own and rushed to speak to you about it then she is likely an incompetent judge of children behavior in general. I’d have to let her know in a nice way that she might want to focus on how to make judgement calls.

    • Patricia says...

      Jane, I think the teacher probably emailed the mom about the incident just so she would know that her son was bitten and the teacher was aware of it. If she hadn’t emailed, the son may have gone home and told his mom he was bitten and the mother may have thought, “Wow, this is all going on without the teacher knowing! Is my child being supervised?!” Just a thought.

    • Alex says...

      Jane, the teacher was probably required to document the incident. I don’t know what sort of rules and policies apply to grade schools, but my children’s daycare teachers are required, I think by state licensing requirements or corporate policy, to document every physical trauma no matter how slight. I laugh when I get these phone calls and have to sign the incident forms, because they are almost always so minor – another toddler bit my child but didn’t break the skin, my kid slipped off the slide and bumped her head and the teacher put ice on it, etc.

  82. Lauren Harvey says...

    One way I’ve had success getting my kids to talk about their day is asking them what their high and low of the day was. Some days there is only a high or only a low, but usually there are multiples of each that they want to talk about. And my husband and I also share our highs and lows of the day with them, so it’s not just the kids being put on the spot.

  83. By the time my autistic son gets home from school, he’s just about done in and doesn’t want to talk about his day. I’m allowed two questions – Any good bits today? and Any bad bits today? I have to be content with a yes or no answer.
    By following this routine, my husband and I have realised that our boy will open up when he’s ready and not before – it’s usually when he’s in the bath!

    • Jessie says...

      Yes! My child is similar. I give them 30-45 minutes of free, do what you want, alone time. They are “on” all day & I found that if I give them space to zone out & don’t place any demands on them, they’ll usually open up to me later in the day.

    • Hilary says...

      Ah, my husband and I are like that too. We just want to decompress for a bit and then chat later. I always think of that SATC episode where Carrie and Aiden move in together and when she walks in the door he’s like “where ya been? what did ya do? who’ve you been with?” and she can’t stand it. I 100% empathize with her.

  84. Dana says...

    Oh no! My heart. :(

    I love the first set of questions – great idea to get more specific so kids aren’t having to sift through a full day of memories. But I was pretty sad to see the question, “Who got in trouble today?” It’s fostering a habit of gossip and labeling children as “the bad kid.” Think about “the child who got in trouble” sitting at home to dinner with their own family, while their classmates are chatting behind their backs about the “drama.” There’s no such thing as “the bad kid.” Some kids struggle their way through school, it’s not the best place for everyone. It really breaks my heart to think about placing even more emphasis on these difficult experiences that some children are having in school.

    Am I taking this too seriously? I love A Cup of Jo so much! And I love what a kind place it is. More love, please! <3

    • Amy says...

      I totally agree, Dana. I was disheartened to read this post as it just seems to go against everything we are trying to do with our kids in a society that is very hostile and angry right now. Why is this question ok??

    • Nikki says...

      I don’t know… I kind of disagree and kind of don’t. I think the intention and follow up matter. If it’s meant in a gossipy way then yes, not so good. But if it gets your child talking about school- I think it’s okay. I think the follow up questions can be: why do you think ___made that choice? how can you be a better friend to ____ (victim or child in trouble)? How can you be a good role model for ___? I think these moments can show empathy. Also I think it normalizes “naughty” behavior. I can’t tell you how many times parents overreact when I “speak” to their child about “naughty” behavior or habits. I think a culture of reflection, mistakes and fixing is important in a classroom. – Nikki (10 year veteran teacher, mostly in 2nd and 3rd grade)

    • Sarah says...

      I agree. I’m the parent of a kid who finds security in rules and structure. She’s quick to volunteer info when other kids struggle with rules, and a few months into kindergarten, there’s already a clear (to me) pattern. I work hard to build empathy with her but not dig deeper into these reports (Yikes, it sounds like your friend had a tough time today. Hopefully tomorrow is easier for them!).

      I have had success pre-seeding stories by naming topics in the morning before school. This sounds like, “Have a great day! When you get home, I’m going to ask you about something silly, something stinky, and something surprising from your day. Be on the lookout!” It doesn’t always work, but often I get a glimpse into the school day, which is the goal. I try to keep the adjectives off the good-bad, success-failure spectrum, since there’s plenty of attention there in most facets of our lives!

    • katie says...

      I had a similar response, Dana. Maybe reframing it as “Did anybody struggle today? Could you help?” I have a 5.5 year old, and I’m really trying to highlight empathy and understanding, as well as empowering him to see how he can make a positive impact.

    • jdp says...

      another way to spin this is that “trouble” is a part of life, and frankly such stories tell a parent plenty about how their kid views the world, how the school operates, how the teacher handles discipline, kid feelings about justice…fairness…mischief…kid issues, from their own perspective, the most important kind of information to be allowed into as a parent/grown-up. fodder for all kinds of bonding and discussion and teaching moments about kindness and inclusion and forgiveness and love! i think it’s a great question.

    • Chrissie says...

      As a social worker and mom, I think this question is a good conversation starter! Kids are already thinking about the dynamics of the classroom and it gives them an opening to talk about with their adults. I also think it’s a great way to introduce empathy. Start by being a really good listener who is very interested in what they have to say and then throw in some empathetic questions. “I wonder how Mrs. Brown felt when he said that swear to her?” “I wonder why Jimmy would do that, do you think maybe he had a hard time at recess? Were people being nice to him on the playground?” Kids are ALREADY labeling kids as “good and bad” and I think this is a great time to sort of dispel that notion and dig deeper with them! All behavior has meaning and I think looking into the why’s of people’s behavior is a great empathy builder!

    • Roberta says...

      I totally agree! I immediately identified with the mom of the kid “who got in trouble” and thinking that other parents might use my kid’s bad day to get their kids talk about school is awful. “It’s exciting! It’s dramatic!”: from which point of view?! I will never ask such question. How could this make our kids more kind and empathetic towards each other?
      And yes, Dana, you are right: it encourages a habit of gossiping and labeling.

    • Denise says...

      My first thought was very similar to yours, but I’m sure it depends on how parents react to what their children tell them. Talking about „the drama“ doesn’t have to be mean, but can be used as a starting point to shift perspectives. Maybe you can help your children see the situation from different points of view and talk about how everyone was feeling at the time and also later when they talked to their own parents. Children usually have a great sense of what is right and wrong, but they need our help to be able to express it and how to help others doing the right thing. You can even talk about what they can do the next time some drama is about to happen.

    • Sarah says...

      I agree. Seems like a good way to raise a Mean Girl if you’re not careful!

    • Heather says...

      I agree! I totally get why kids would be into talking about this, and how it might get them excited and want to share all the juicy details. Maybe parents could even use it as a way to reinforce some lessons and teach good behaviour…BUT, it also, as you say, fosters sort of a “gossipy” way of thinking, and may make a situation even worse for the child who got into trouble at school. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem very positive. There are more productive things to speak about, in my opinion.

    • Linda says...

      Thank you Dana for this! This didn’t occur to me but reading your thoughtful post made me really think. It’s true- there really aren’t bad or good kids. they are all kids that will momentarily struggle as kids are wont to do!

    • Susan says...

      I don’t think this necessarily fosters gossip, depending on how the rest of the conversation goes. If you get them to open up with this and have a conversation about how the student was having a hard time and what others did/could have done to help, I think it would be more likely to do the opposite. In my family getting in trouble at school was a BIG deal and definitely made me feel like I was “bad” the few times it happened. I still have perfectionist tendencies that I think stem from that. I think it would have been really beneficial for me as a kid to be able to talk openly with my parents about someone getting in trouble at school, what it means, how to move past it, etc.

    • Ariana says...

      Totally agree!

    • E says...

      I agree, Dana. Questions that I have been asking my kindergartener, how did you help someone today? What was one brave thing you did today? What was one kind thing you did today? Also, if the conversation does go to who got in trouble I like to ask, who helped the kid? It reframes it as not that they are bad but that they just needed extra help. Usually the answer is that the teacher helped and that is wonderful to hear.

    • Amber J says...

      Maybe a good follow-up to this question might be, “What choices should she/he have made instead to behave more kindly/respectfully/appropriately for the situation? How did you or can you show compassion to this one who got in trouble and who may be struggling or feeling embarrassed/ashamed/left out?”

      My little one is well below school age yet, but my goal for as he grows up is that home is a place where we can talk about anything and learn from it all — how to make good choices and how to show compassion to everyone, no matter what. ?

    • Elly says...

      I was a little surprised to see that question, too. However, I think it actually offers a great way to open up conversations with your kids about the exact thing you’re saying: just because a kid got in trouble, doesn’t make them a bad kid! Also, I personally don’t consider a retelling of events that someone actually witnessed gossip.

    • Kylee says...

      I ask my kids who got into trouble today, and for us its not so much gossip as using it as a educational talking point. What did the kid do? Why do you think they did it? Is Kid A always mean to Kid B? What do YOU do when he/she is being unkind? Perhaps Kid A has something worrying him that’s making him angry/sad/disruptive? All in a non lecturing way. But there can be good lessons in it, for our family anyway (my kids are six).
      Mainly though we all have to say two good things/one bad thing at dinner, including the adults :)

    • Abbie says...

      Same reaction here Dana. I would much rather ask my kids “what was the craziest thing that happened today?” I find that works like a charm without being negative. We love crazy in this house lol.

    • Alyssa says...

      I think “who got in trouble today?” is a really different question from “who’s the bad kid?”. ALL kids get in trouble sometimes, and often those are really good lessons for both themselves and other kids. As the stepmom of a kid who is FREQUENTLY in trouble (and will most likely one day be the “bad kid” at school) I think this question opens up really important conversations!

    • Claire says...

      Dana, this was my immediate thought as well! I was, at times, “the bad kid” at school (my parents went through a LONG divorce, and I sought attention in unhealthy ways). My family also didn’t quite fit in at my small parochial school. As an adult (who came out of everything fine :) ), it makes me sad when I hear people talking about the “bad” kid or “weird” family from their past or present. It reminds me that people were probably talking about me, too.

      I also love Cup of Jo for its kindness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dana.

    • kathy says...

      hi, dana.

      i agree with you 100% (including support for this website’s leader, other staff and the commenters) and appreciate your thoughtful reply and feelings.

      hope you are having a good day.

      kathy

    • Erin says...

      You’re taking it too seriously, Dana. ? The best stories have at least a little conflict before resolving. Conflict can be a great place to talk about boundaries, compassion, anger, the full gammit of what it means to be human. From 3 to 103.

    • Erin says...

      You’re taking it too seriously, Dana. ? The best stories have at least a little conflict before resolving. Conflict can be a great place to talk about boundaries, compassion, anger, the full gammit of what it means to be human. Whether we’re 3 or 103.

    • christine says...

      I am with you. I wonder if this perpetuates kids being thought of as “bad kids”, and what that does long term. Parents now think of little Johnny being the “bad boy” and this conscious bias could continue on throughout the children’s school years.

    • Nina says...

      I’m with you. I guess it depends on the tone you ask in, and how you follow it up – if you ask things like, “Was it fair or unfair that they got into trouble?” and “Was there a reason why they acted like they did?”, that might lead to more kindness and understanding. But otherwise it doesn’t seem like a great sort of question. “Did any of your classmates have a bad day today?” might be better??

    • Catherine says...

      I don’t think you’re taking this too seriously at all. I 100% agree.

      Asking “who got into trouble today” is the equivalent of saying my husband “so who goofed up at work today, honey”. It’s just not particularly kind, appropriate, or even interesting to me.

      As a parent I care about what MY child did. As a teacher, I often hear about how kids tell a lot of stories about other kids and I encourage parents to do things like “oh sounds like she’s learning. What did you do?”

      Specific questions work well. “What’d you make in art?” Or even statements that young children can correct “oh, so you were door holder today”, “no mama, Wyatt was door holder and I got to feed the fish!” Etc.

    • Dana says...

      Thanks for your replies Kylee and Alyssa. It’s helpful to see your perspectives that this type of question could lead to some meaningful conversations about how/why kids “get in trouble,” problem solving, how to treat others, etc.

      Still not on board with the question being used for the purpose of excitement and drama. There are likely other ways to discuss classroom behavior with your children that do not involve calling out a particular child.

  85. Jessica S. says...

    I couldn’t agree more, my kids LOVE to tell me about the drama! When we sit down to eat we play Hi-Lo. Whoever calls it first gets to go first and they tell one high point of their day and then their lowest point of the day. This brings on other stories/questions and a generally good conversation. When they’re done, they get to pick someone else at the table to tell their high and Low. We have three boys so it’s good to see them engage in conversation about their days and compare stories.

    • Sarah says...

      I understand the sentiment behind this. But maybe taking about the trouble that stirred up at school could be a teaching moment too, about all sorts of things: empathy, how other children act and how your child processes that, manners, storytelling, etc. Just a thought!

  86. At random times my 6 year old will open up about things at school. Gradually I get a picture of what his day is like. This morning he told me that his teacher asks the kids a question (like, what did you do this weekend?) at circle time. If I ask him something specific, like what did you do in gym? or what is your job this week? I’ll usually get an answer. I’ll have to try who got in trouble?!

  87. agnes says...

    My son has just started a new school last week (after we moved to Paris in december) and I just want to know everything that’s going on! Of course, he tells us nothing! The question about recess is really good though and the only question he answers… For the rest, when he’s having his bath he seems to be reliving his day! that’s how we know if he’s okay… I’ll try one of your questions tonight (only one!!). Thanks for the great post.

  88. Leigh says...

    Oh as someone who works in special ed, this question made me CRINGE. Maybe I’m sensitive because it seems that “my kids” are in trouble more often than many others, but there are SO MANY reasons (hunger, mental health, learning disabilities, language learning status) that a student may get into trouble, and kids, especially younger students, don’t always have a great understanding of those outside issues. On the flip side, some kids with behavior plans or other accommodations may seemingly have more leeway around behavior, which can be seen as “unfair” by a lot of kids…and adults! I’m not sure I’d want to reinforce a peer getting into trouble as “exciting” or “dramatic.” Unless you’re doing a lot of follow-up conversations with your child, it doesn’t seem like a great way to teach empathy toward others. Would you want someone thinking that it’s “exciting” when your child gets into trouble?

    • Leigh says...

      And let me clarify…the reasons I listed may lead to behaviors that can look like “getting into trouble.” They aren’t bad or negative by themselves.

    • H says...

      Middle school teacher here and I agree. “Trouble” is so subjective too- a lot of my kids think they’re in trouble if they have to speak one-on-one with a teacher, step out of class, etc. Nope, not trouble! We’re just having a conversation. I’d hate for kids to be gossiping about who got redirected or something. I frequently ask my kids about the best and worst parts of their day. I do the same with my family at home, and even keep a gratitude log every day to think of a highlight.

    • Jamie says...

      Thank you for saying this! I cringed as well, but could not figure out exactly why. I think it’s because my child’s friend last year got into “trouble” a lot and I couldn’t help but think his needs weren’t being met by the adults around him and I despise the way the other parents have labeled this child as disruptive and gossip about a THREE year old. Maybe for the younger kids we can ask who did something silly today?

    • Colleen says...

      I am a teacher as well and I agree with everything you wrote. Most of the kids who get “in trouble” are really struggling with many other issues.

    • O TEE says...

      Yes!!! And especially your second comment! Some of these kiddies who are getting in “trouble” have SO much going on and oftentimes are those who need the most support and empathy!! I come from the same professional background so it may just be that we are more aware Leigh through our education and experiences! I know reflecting back to my own school days I would not have known to link “bad” behaviors to potential underlying issues.

      I know this post meant no harm though and love the blog!

    • Twyla says...

      I’m not a parent, or a teacher, but I was a quiet kid. I internalized a lot and didn’t have any outlets to talk about what I observed or what I felt. Maybe asking ‘Who got in trouble today’ can lead to a conversation about how the kid felt about what they saw? Maybe it can be an opportunity to help the child to develop empathy, or to recognize opportunities to be a helper to a kid who needs a buddy. I don’t believe in silence within families, on any topic. If it helps a kid to open up, to learn its ok to talk about their feelings – then that’s a good thing. It’s what they learn from that conversation that matters.

    • Hannah says...

      Leigh, I couldn’t agree with you more on this point. I’m a teacher, too, and I felt really sad when I saw this post from CoJ, which I think of as an exceptionally empathetic and loving community of writers and readers. You made wonderful points about how problematic this is for a number of reasons, and I would add that framing a teacher’s response to children’s misbehavior as “getting into trouble” further reinforces the all-too-common trope of “mean teachers.” Skillful, well-trained teachers use a huge variety of tools to help reinforce desired behaviors and redirect undesired ones, and often go to great lengths to understand where the behavior is coming from. Many of my colleagues attend rigorous professional development training to help them manage student behavior empathetically and proactively (for interested readers, check out the Responsive Classroom, a program used in many schools in the US and abroad).
      I encourage my children to see their teachers as loving allies, and to understand that when teachers need to redirect behavior, it is because the behavior is unkind, unsafe, or disruptive to the classroom. I often ask my kids “What would Ms. ___ say?” in response to their misbehavior at home, because I want them to know that parents and teachers are a team working hard to keep kids safe, learning, and having fun.
      As an alternative conversation starter, I would suggest any of the following:
      What was the funniest thing someone said today?
      Who was kind to you today? Who were you kind to?
      If you could change one thing about the school day, what would it be?
      What did you do today that you hope to do again?
      How many words do you think were read in your class today? (Or pencils sharpened, or sandwiches eaten – estimating is a great STEM skill!)
      And so on and so on. There are so many more inviting, specific, fun and most importantly non-judgmental questions that we can ask to get our kids talking about school in a positive way.

    • J says...

      Love this!!

    • Kate says...

      Leigh, you sound like a wonderful teacher! The educators at my sons’ school work diligently to create a kind, inclusive environment and I feel this question really undermines those efforts. I never comment but felt compelled to since I most sincerely hope the question of “who got in trouble today” does’t became a feature of family dinner tables.

    • Ariana says...

      Agreed!

    • Hannah says...

      I agree. I asked this question unintentionally one day and got a whole conversation from my 4yo. Yes, it got him to talk, but it was all very judgmental about the other kids and their behavior patterns! In his mixed-age Montessori classroom, there are younger kids who just haven’t learned somethings yet as well as kids that have a whole range of other reasons as you listed. We had to do a lot of follow-up conversations after this so he learned why some kids might behave the way they do (not bad or good!).

      Now, when he tells me about his day and decides to include information on a kid who got told on or got in trouble, I ask him what he did to help the kid. Sometimes, he’s the one in trouble (those are devastating days in our house!), and I ask him what he did in response/remedy. Trying to get back to empathy from judgement. And I’m certainly learning lessons for myself, too!!!

    • JMarie says...

      I agree–the getting in trouble question can be problematic for so many of the reasons you highlighted.

      I do ask my kid (preschooler with a curriculum currently heavily focused on emotions) if anyone felt sad/angry/frustrated/happy/excited at school. I think it accomplishes a similar objective in that it allows him to highlight a behavior that may have stood out to him during the day. But it also tends to create some opportunity to talk about why that other child may be feeling that way and also my kiddo’s reaction to the other kid. (e.g. Oh, I bet your friend was sad because someone took their Legos. What did you do when you saw they were sad?)

  89. Maggie says...

    100% This. I devised a conversation jar that sits on our dining table in case we need a kickstart, which is rare, but it happens. Totally adding these questions to the jar today.

    • agnes says...

      great idea!

  90. Martha says...

    I always have a hard time getting my 8 year old to tell me anything about school. But earlier this year we were giving her friend a ride home from school and I overheard my daughter ask her, “What happened in school today that surprised you?” Her friend had a sweet answer. Now I use that same question with my daughter and it works every time!

  91. Sandra says...

    While I get that it this question gets kids talking, I don’t really like it. My son has had some issues with outbursts at school (he was finally diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at age 8) and part of what was hard was other kids gossiping about it. Another classmate told the neighbors about DS still biting at age 6. And other kids talked because he swore in school at age 8. The list goes on. I guess my point is that I don’t like to encourage gossip about other people’s struggles. In general, even without developmental differences, bad behavior is usually a sign that a child was struggling in school that day.

    • Leigh says...

      Agree very much with your last sentence! We all have days that are difficult and we should be helping our kids be empathetic and caring.

      And I hope your son is doing well and having a good school year!

    • Nikki says...

      I hope parents and teachers explain that often an outburst is a sign of a bad day and we should be extra nice and be extra good role models to make it easier for our friends. I think gossip is bad- so I think normalizing talking about it is better. Having kids talk about it with their parents- can help them understand it so they don’t need to gossip about it with their friends OR if their friends do gossip they can say things like “when I have a bad day I scream into my pillow, ___ must have been having a bad day. We should play with him today to try to make today better”. I think kids have a tendency to gossip because they don’t get it. Just like when they stare at people with disabilities. It doesn’t make it right- but their little brains are just figuring it out.

      When I had students who experience severe trauma in my classroom and often acted out in ways that would be inappropriate to write about on a public forum- we use to have class meetings about it. We would say things like “aren’t we lucky that behaving in school comes easier to us- how can we make our classroom a place that make it easier for our friends who aren’t as lucky as us?” or “everyone has things going on at home that makes them want to be different at school. maybe cry, maybe scream, maybe act out. Let’s show kindness because we don’t know what it’s like at people’s homes.” We would talk about safe places, kindness tools and bring in things to make our classroom calmer.

      I get why we don’t want our kids to “talk” about it but kids will talk about it. Better with their parents than on the bus!

  92. Catherine says...

    I’ve started asking my kids what “the most annoying thing of the day” was. They LOVE talking about this — it’s fun to complain! — and going to that part first always inspires them to then think of what they were most grateful for, or what their favorite part was. It has worked to inspire conversations on our walks home and now they clearly are keeping lists so they have something to talk after school.

  93. celeste says...

    Hahaha.

    My 12-year-old daughter and I have a policy where I will answer almost all questions. She started one last night because she’d figured out her grandparents got pregnant with her aunt during college, and therefore they never finished.

    “Mom, I have a question, and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to…”

    I did.