What did you do at school today?

schoolbear“What did you do at school today?” is the first question I ask my son when I pick him up from school, and when the nanny picks him up it’s the question I normally ask during dinner. The second one is “What did you eat at school today?” (Which obviously doesn’t apply to the majority of schoolchildren all over the world who get their lunch packed by their mums.) What I invariably get as an answer is a blank stare followed by something in the line of “I don’t know/I can’t remember/I’m not sure”.
How come the extremely reliable memory of my son fails so spectacularly?

Now, I can’t remember where I read it but apparently the best way to get the information you want is to pose the question differently and ask “What is the best thing you did at school today?”. I tried it a couple of times last week and the reply, maybe just out of surprise for the new question, was way more satisfying than average.
Unfortunately, given the quality of the state school’s canteen service, I cannot apply the same trick to my second question. Somehow “What was the yummiest thing you had for lunch today?” would still get no answer.

-Michela

12 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Christine Dubiniecki | September 29, 2009 | Reply

I’m surprised to hear “yummiest” wouldn’t get an answer. Jamie Oliver raves about Italian school canteen cooking. Maybe he was there on a good day? He was served baked pasta with mozarella and basil – a recipe he included in one of his cookbooks that I think is both simple and yummy. Way better than tater tots and pizza pockets!!!!

2. Esther | September 30, 2009 | Reply

I have the same problem with my daughter. When I ask her what she did at school, she typically says ‘fun things’. When I ask what sort of fun things, she says sort of annoyed ‘just fun things, mum!’, and with that the subject is closed. I’ve found out that if I let her be for a while she will start telling me things by herself, at dinnertime or so. I will also try your advice!!

3. maria | September 30, 2009 | Reply

I have stopped posing the question because my son seems to be too tired to tell me when I ask, but then he volunteers the information all by himself later on.

4. Emilie | September 30, 2009 | Reply

This is such a timely post. I was at a parent/ teacher meeting a few night ago and all the parents had the same story to tell…. when I ask my daughter about what she ate at school she often says: “Nothing, they did not give me anything!!!”
I guess they have their own little world at school that we as parents are not part of and are protecting it…

5. HBS | September 30, 2009 | Reply

As far as I can remember (I am 40 yo) I acted the same when I was a child therefore I am not surprised my son doing it too :)

6. Katelijne | September 30, 2009 | Reply

Thanks! I am going to try this new aproach, because also when I ask my daughter I get no answer. Or she will say in a very sad voice ‘ I cannot remember anymore’. Sometimes I try to help her by asking if she was for example having pasta for lunch, but then she will always reply yes, and I found her answers to be very unreliable.

7. gabrielle | September 30, 2009 | Reply

my boy does it too and i have to remember to stop asking – i clearly remember being asked as a child and thinking “oh god you are so boring! haven’t you got anything better to talk about. stop prying and bugging me.”

my new tactic is going to to be to start telling him something really amazing i did or heard that day.

8. Annie | October 1, 2009 | Reply

I’ve read that child psychologists do not face boys when trying to engage them in conversation. Rather, they walk next to them. I find my son likes to chat in the car, when we are not face-to-face, but in different rows of the car.

9. Jasmin | October 1, 2009 | Reply

try this: when i pick up my daughter from her school i say ‘did you eat an elephant or a giraffe at school today?’ the first few times it worked a charm, she burst out laughing and told her silly mom (me!) EXACTLY what she ate. now the trick is tired but it still works occasionally!

10. kim | October 2, 2009 | Reply

Have indeed the same problem with my son. Luckely his school publishes the menu on their website every week. A good way of finding out is listing in when they have a playdate over: they will often chat together about what they have done that day in school. My son always will remember his desert though, especially when it is jelly or cake!!!!

11. Julie | October 2, 2009 | Reply

I worried terribly when my son told me each day that he couldn’t remenber what he had been doing at nursery. I thought that perhaps he was unhappy there and would prefer to forget all about it. However, his response is more enthusiastic when I suggest ‘If you can tell me four things which you did today at nursery we can have chocolate/visit gran/go to the park after dinner.’ It’s a case of ‘I’ll tell you if there’s something in it for me!’

12. Keith | December 7, 2009 | Reply

I am sorry that a person in your children’s nursery program couldn’t explain to you that children under the age of six live in present time. They physically cannot retrieve specific information at your request because the child experiences his/her school experience as a totality. This is just as they experience a jumble of toys in a toy box as a totality–hence the use of many shelves in better schools for young children. It is much more difficult for them to see individual toys in a toy box.

You cannot expect a child under the age of 6 to retrieve specific information about their day at another’s request. However, if the child recalls an event on their own and volunteers it, their sharing will be real and likely an adult who was there would agree with their recollection. Promises of rewards for sharing what s/he did during the day only teaches the child to invent and fabricate answers to get the reward–probably not the behavior you really seek. It is fallacy to believe that they are consciously withholding the information from you.

Don’t be fooled; your child’s brain before 6 is very different from your adult brain. I have found I am much less frustrated with my children’s behaviors when I have sought answers from people adequately trained in early childhood development. Stephen Hughes at is an understandable pediatric neuropsychologist who offers much of his knowledge and research for free at goodatdooingthings.com.

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