Asking your child about their day at school and getting more than a one-word response can be difficult.
I confess, I was a pro at the monosyllable answer when my mom used to ask me how my school day went. Common responses included: “Fine”, “Good”, “Eh”, and the classic – “Kay.”
Even though “Bad” is only one syllable, I didn’t dare offer that as an answer, as I learned it triggered further probing questions as to what specifically went bad and why. It was certainly much safer to vary responses daily with the repertoire listed above.
And I apparently passed this “skill” down to my own children, as prying information from them about their day required tools like crowbars and vice grips! I say required because things have actually improved due to a solution I have found to work reasonably well.
My kids and I call it the “High-Low-High”.
“High-Low-High” structures responses to require one highpoint of the day, one low point, and then another highpoint as a finale. It isn’t foolproof, but does help get the conversation started.
I have three kids – a junior in high school, and a set of 8th grade, boy/girl twins. Rather than asking how their day was, I ask each individually, in turn, to “High-Low-High me.” In fact, my kids will “High-Low-High” me regularly now as well.
This technique has led to the sharing of more details than a “Kay” response has ever given. It has also been effective in prompting conversation on days when there aren’t obvious highs or lows – some days are simply more even keeled. But even those days have some simple moments in them that are better than others, and there certainly is some mental health in appreciating the little things in life.
I have also discovered a side benefit to this technique.
There have been moments in my kids’ lives where they have struggled to navigate the social minefield that middle school, high school and even sometimes elementary school presented. Once I learned they were having difficulties with someone, I would ask them each day how things went regarding that particular individual.
However, after some time I finally realized that by doing this, I was inadvertently asking them to focus only on these negative interactions. Since that was all I was asking about, that was all they were sharing. But the “High-Low-High” technique helps maintain a proper balance of what our children emphasize each day.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I didn’t invent this tactic and if I could recall the origin, I would most certainly give credit where it is due. But I share it with hope that it may help some of you who are stuck with monotone, monosyllabic dialog with your kids.
Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.