When Karie Dufour’s daughter, Holly,* started full-time preschool a year and a half ago, one of the toughest transitions for the Ottawa mom was to go from knowing everything that her daughter did during the day, to knowing very little.
“Holly has always been extremely talkative, but when we’d ask how her day went, all she’d say was, ‘good,’” Dufour remembers. “When I asked what she did, she’d say, ‘nothing,’ or ‘I don’t know.’” Dufour didn’t realize it at the time, but her questions were just too open-ended for a kid Holly’s age. She also says she probably picked the wrong time of day—for Holly, that was right after school—to grill her daughter.
Today, Dufour has changed her approach and she keeps her questions specific for her three-year-old. “I’ll ask if she played outside or in the gym, what book the teacher read, who she played dolls with or what she had for lunch. These are much easier for her to answer, and I find that once she gets talking she remembers things about her day and keeps going.”
Dufour also waits until suppertime—the family’s downtime—to broach the topic. “It occurred to me that I should show Holly how to talk about her day,” she says. “So one night over dinner, I asked my partner what made him happy that day and what frustrated him. Then he asked me the same questions.” Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Holly to pipe up and join the conversation.
Eluding questions is pretty typical of kids in this age group—alternatively, you may find some preschoolers offer a play-by-play of their entire day—according to Halifax kindergarten teacher and mom-of-two Sharon Baker.
So why can it be so hard to get them talking? Developmentally, kids don’t have the same concept or continuity of time that adults do. “At this age, they don’t think about their day as a series of events that happened in a specific sequence,” says Cheryl King, a kindergarten teacher in Brampton, Ont. “Without prompting, they are more likely to remember what happened most recently or most frequently in the day.” If you’re unsure of what’s going on in the classroom, use the information in the kindergarten newsletters that most schools send home (or read the teacher’s email updates, Twitter feed or website, if offered) as a starting point for your queries.
If you don’t have a chatterbox, simply ask for her favourite and least favourite parts of the day. “My own mother used the phrasing, ‘What were your roses?’ and ‘What were your thorns?’ referring to the good and not-so-nice parts of the day,” says Baker. Some kids might prefer drawing a picture instead of giving you a rundown of events, which can offer lots of insight, too.
Read more: Teaching preschoolers bathroom etiquette>
No matter what your kids share—or don’t share—with you, it’s normal to feel a little left out of their new-found autonomy. “Success at parenting is a double-edged sword—if we do our job properly, they leave home and that hurts,” says Calgary parenting expert Julie Freedman Smith. “We can celebrate their independence while mourning their dependence—this happens regularly for about 18 years or more.”
While the conversation has improved at Dufour’s home, she says there are still days she doesn’t get much out of Holly. “Sometimes I feel like I really have to dig, but I think it’s moving in the right direction,” she says. “Our biggest challenge is that she has an active imagination, so we usually need to sort out what’s fact and what’s fiction.” But that’s another story.
*name has been changed
A version of this article originally appeared in our April 2014 issue with the headline “Strike up a convo,” p. 54.
Got a kid who won’t open up? Check out this video on how to really connect: