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Getting Your Kids To Share The Details Of Their Day

August 19, 2016

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Back To School Games

It’s back to school time in many parts of the country right now and for those of you heading back soon, especially those parents of young children, I wanted to share a great game that has kept our family connected even though we are not together all day. 

It's called “The Best Thing ~ Worst Thing Game” and we have played it for years with great results.
Whether you are sending your preschooler off for the first time or you have a teenager confronting their senior year, chances are when you say, “How was your day?” the answer you’re going to get back will be a very unfulfilling, “Fine.”  

As a teacher and a mom, I have heard parents lament over and over again, how their kids share precious little regarding their school day. In many cases, especially when it comes to the little ones, it’s not that they don’t want to share, they actually forget what happened- good or bad, out of sight is truly out of mind. 

So how do you get them to remember?  

Well, teachers know that if you really want a thoughtful answer from a young child, you need to offer them a prompt. It’s a standard formula, for example, read a book, discuss, ask your question, brainstorm ideas and go!  

This game follows the same formula. 

Of course the screaming disclaimer here is that when it comes to tweens and teens, their lack of conversation and reluctance to chat stems from a completely different reason than forgetfulness and if a standard formula exists to get them to share on command, I wish someone would please let me know!  

I can say, from experience though, that since this game has been such an integral part of our dinnertime ritual for years, everyone does share. 

It’s very simple, as the name suggests, when we sit down for dinner, everyone is asked to share the absolute best thing and the absolute worst thing that happened in their day. Parents should go first to model the behavior.  

When teaching the game, I usually think a bit, sometimes I list several things that happened to me to show them how to get the juices flowing (Hmm, I went grocery shopping, I made your bed…oh yes, I picked you up at school and you smiled at me!), then I repeat the process with my worst thing.  

The object here is to open the flood gates of conversation and I can attest that it usually does. 

Once the good and/or bad event is revealed other questions inevitably follow ~ who was involved, when did it happen, how did you feel ~ asked in a natural, nonchalant way and pretty soon, the details of the entire day, for which my husband and I were not present, are floating around the kitchen table. 

I know that the idea is simplistic, but it works.  

If you ask a child if anything interesting happened during the day, you'll probably get a no.  

If you ask them what the best part of the day was, they will invariably say gym class or recess. 

Very predictable. 

However, by asking them to define a very specific moment during the school day that was the best or the worst, you are much more likely to get a meaningful response. 

Oftentimes, when I shared this game, parents would ask me why it was necessary to bring up the worst, why can't we just focus on the happy parts of the day?  

Well, you can, but by discussing both the good and the bad in the day, the exercise requires the child to talk about things that they might not spontaneously bring up, maybe it was something small, but over time, these "worsts" can provide parents with an opportunity to see patterns and develop a clearer picture your child, of their social interactions, feelings toward academic subjects and instructors, even the dreaded bus.  

It also helps children to understand that bad things do happen sometimes, but it doesn't have to define the whole day, they are usually balanced out by the good moments, a concept that is difficult for children, who often see thing in absolutes, to understand on their own.  

Of course, if the child cannot come up with a worst, lucky you!

Now, I am not a complete Pollyanna, and we are certainly not the Brady Bunch, there are obviously days when no one really wants to share (believe me, there have been many, many days when my teens tell me that their “worst thing" is the game!) and that’s ok, at least I tried.  

Sometimes, I push and I’ll ask them to tell me at least one good thing, even if it’s a throwaway, it usually provides a laugh.  

There are also days when we are not all able to sit at the table together, so we modify the game.  

Sometimes we play a quick round while carpooling to activities. There really are no rules, go with what works for you.

Bottom line, the game is a great conversation starter and provides a little bit of structure to encourage communication between parent and child, improving verbalization skills along the way.  

Started early enough, it becomes a habit and develops a life of its own. 

It becomes the time of day when everyone is really focused on each other, really interacting and listening to each other.

No iPhones.

No tv.

No distractions. 

And there's nothing bad about that. 

**Hey!! Did you hear that I was nominated for an Amara Award? **

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  1. I did something similar with my daughters when they were in elementary school. At snack time after school they would usually pretty much complain about this person or that person or whatever happened that was no fun. After they were done unloading, I'd ask them to tell me one good thing that happened and they usually could come up with something.

    1. It's a great little game and it teaches perspective, which all too often is lost on kids. Things are either all bad or all good and life is seldom that black and white! :)

  2. My son is taking a college level English Composition class in high school. This is an email I sent to the teacher just last night. You must establish a pattern of listening to your children in order to get this quality of information out of them.
    Mrs. Wright,

    If you were standing before me right now, I'd hug you so tightly. Hector got home and was concerned when he saw tears rolling down my cheeks. When I was able to talk, I assured him they were happy tears. A very long talk with Alex had just concluded.

    Alex and I arrived home from school at 3:05 p.m. He went to the kitchen to get a soda, and then came back to my desk. He talked, non-stop, from 3:05 to 4:30 p.m. He only spoke about his English class.

    He is ecstatic. I have never seen him this excited, ever. I think he must have told me every word you uttered today. He said he learned something today he had never heard before. "I've enjoyed English classes I've had the last three years, but I can't think of a single thing I was 'taught' that I didn't already know. Not one thing. Today, I learned new things! Do you know how exciting that is?"

    He went on about how wonderful it was to have a teacher first period who's happy to be there, and who truly loves her subject matter. "She's so enthusiastic! She loves English! Her voice does crazy things, going up and down based on her excitement. You can tell she's living her dream! It's such an amazing way to start my day!" Oh, my gosh! I loved that. Of course, I recognize that you might, or might not be living your dream, but nevertheless, you act as if you are, and my kid thinks you are, and that's all that matters.

    "I'm going to be able to flex intellectual muscles I haven't flexed before and I'm so excited." My heart soared.

    I could go on, and on, and on with the amazing thoughts emanating from my child this afternoon. It's as if you've fanned embers long cooled. I can't begin to express my appreciation. I'm as excited as he to see what this year holds in store.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    1. I agree with you, 100% and it surely seems that you have fostered a wonderfully open environment in your home. I love the email you sent to his teacher. I am sure she must've been thrilled to hear it all. You know you totally made her day!! As a teacher I know that your letter would be mounted on my fridge for sure!! :)

  3. I did this when my two daughters were growing up too. It is a great way to connect. Now I see my daughter doing it with our 6 year old granddaughter. Love when you see traditions continue on with your own kids and their kids. Happy Friday Kim.
    Have a great week end.

    1. It is a great tradition, Kris and I hope my own kids think so, too!!

  4. I love playing that game after school! It's such a great way to get info. (especially when you have boys) I still ask questions about their day now that they're a senior in high school and a senior in college! :)

    1. I agree!! People always say…oh they don’t share as teens…but if you start this game early enough, they really do. Generally speaking anyway! Glad you have talkers!! :)

  5. Very creative Kim, but I'm not surprised :).

    Your children will appreciate this as they get older, if they don't already. (They probably do, but won't admit it lol).

    Enjoy your weekend!


    1. Thanks Doreen! Yes, they are at that age now, where they rarely appreciate anything I do...however, I do think that this game has fostered the open door conversation policy we have and when there have been tough things to share, it's been a little bit easier, since sharing is such a natural part of our day! :)

  6. Kim this is great. I think that one of my DIL's friends does this from something that she'd said in a FB post the other day ( which I will find and paste here ) but I am going to share your post with my DIL after....

    THE FB post included in comment 'cause it's such a happy story :) My family of 7 sat down and ordered our pizza at the Pizza Hut on Murtland Ave tonight. Our pizza came and we got our plates. We held hands and said grace. Just as we were saying our best and worst parts of the day our waitress came over and told us that a man saw us praying and paid our bill!!! I don't know this man, but if you are reading this I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I couldn't stop crying, my entire family was so touched. My kids are convinced you are Jesus walking in disguise. Either way, u showed the love of Jesus to us tonight. Thank you! God bless you! If only the world were full of people with your heart...

    1. I love this story, Deb! Thanks so much for sharing. It's the kindness of strangers, the strength of family ties from a shared meal and the power of prayer all rolled into one!! :)

  7. That sounds like a fun game. Kim, where were you 15 years ago when I could not pry my kids mouths open to get them to talk instead of getting one word answers. Seriouly, we are blessed if we can get them to still open up to us at this day and age.

    1. I was lucky that I had already been teaching for a few years when my own kids came along, Mary! Tricks of the trade come in handy sometimes! ;)

  8. I think this will be great for my daughter to start with her daughter starting kindergarten this year. I will pass it along! thanks!

    1. Good luck with kindergarten!! I bet you can remember when your daughter started. It goes by so fast doesn't it? :)

  9. We tried to operate this way when our boys were growing up. It's funny how one kid can have so much more to say than another one but that's the way ours were. We'd get every single detail from one son and nothing from the other. It's still that way. :)

    1. My kids both spill…and sometimes at the same time, which leads to another set of problems, as you can imagine. However, yes, kids are different ~ same house, same parents, same rules, still different!! : )

  10. Great ideas and we do the same. I am so thankful for the relationship I have with my boys. I think starting early with taking time and turning off the distractions is a good start to long lasting relationships.

    1. My mom used to say that raising kids is just like gardening Carla, you reap what you sow!!

  11. Hi Kim, What a great post and look back for me. My son was great about sharing after school. From elementary school on we just carried that gab session on through high school ~ with a little snack in a sit down time to relax. That's been so long ago but he still is ready to visit when he stops by for a visit. We still add a cookie or two!
    Happy Sunday.

    1. Sounds like you have a lovely relationship, Celestina Marie and I am sure you treasure those conversations even more now…enjoy those cookies!! :)

  12. Hello Kim, this is a great tip for opening up the conversation with teens. I'm very lucky that my husband and I get every detail that happens in our teens day to day life! Yay. We are all very verbal here!!
    Hope you have a nice week.

    1. Very lucky, indeed, Julie!! I love hearing the details, too. I know I am going miss the conversation when #1 goes off to school in a few weeks. Lots of Facetiming, I hope!! ;)

  13. I know you enjoy those times with your girls.

    We used to do the same with our girls. Dinnertime was always my favorite part of each day. Oh how I miss them. It's still difficult to sit at our same dining room table for dinner every night and not have them here to talk about their day.