As a child, the question “How was school today?” irritated me. How could I describe a medley of experiences–a great game on the playground, the disappointment at having to go inside, jostling to find a place in line, losing myself in a story, eating snack with a friend? At the end of the day, all I wanted was down time, a chance to step out of the world of schedules and expectations and relax all parts of my being. Research shows that children’s brains need to pause, and having to try to answer questions keeps them in a state of alert.
Remembering how you felt as a child can provide a pathway to attune to the needs of a child at the end of a busy day. Sometimes children decompress by having a little tantrum at pick-up or by venting about something that didn’t go their way. Maybe they didn’t want to leave what they are doing or don’t want the snack you brought. They may recall a mishap with a friend. It’s wise to see upsets, complaints, and demands as indications that they are feeling safe to let down.
Pick-up can be a good time to make statements rather than immediately asking questions. “You look like you were having fun.” “I saw you were with your friend outside.” “I really missed you today.” “I was thinking we could get a snack on the way home.”
As we talk about our observations, feelings, and hopes for the next hours together, we create connection, and when children feel relaxed, they may want to talk.
In addition to questions about school, it can be tempting to ask children about issues that concern us: “Did you make up with your friend?” “Was anyone mean to you?” “Did you listen to the teacher?” “How did you do on your spelling test?”
The problem with these well-intended questions is they lead the child back into assessing the day in a particular way based on a past mood or event that caused us anxiety. We want to know the child’s spin on the current day and support their sense that regardless of the ups and downs, they were up to handling them.
If you have concerns, talking to your child’s teacher can offer a fuller perspective and help you to partner on supporting your child’s feelings of happiness and well-being.