"Nothing Happened" - why kids and teens don't tell us about their day and what to do about it

A universal refrain sweeps the country at 3.30pm each night.  It goes like this:

Parent: So, how was your day?
Child/teen: fine.
Parent: What happened?
Child: Nothing happened.  I told you.  It was fine.

It's not always easy to get young people to tell us about what happened at school.  There are two primary reasons for this.

Reason 1. They DON'T WANT to talk about it.  

Talking about what HAS already happened at school is kind of boring.  Been there, done that.  It's tiring.  They have more interesting things to think about.  For teens, they might not want to talk to parents about their day in an attempt to be independent.  They might not want to share details which might mean they experience problems later (if I tell you about a hard maths lesson, will you make me do maths homework?  if I tell you about a friend saying something hurtful, will you try to stop me seeing them later?)

Reason 2. They FIND IT HARD to talk about it.

Young people live in the moment, and thinking back is hard.  It actually requires quite a lot of concentration to recall the events of the day.  They find it hard to think of what details to tell us about.  They find it difficult to express and explain themselves. It might not seem hard - but remember kids and teens don't have the same level of communication and conversational skills as adults do.

So kids don't always want to tell us about things, and they don't always find it easy to do so.   Now what?

Here's an important message, especially for those of us who have kids and teens who struggle with worry, frustration or tough life events - DONT GIVE UP!  Keep asking.  Keep checking in.  Keep trying.  Here's why.

First, knowing what happens at school helps us know how to coach and support children and teenagers.  With information we can better help them face challenges, make changes and cope with life.

Second - and just as importantly - by getting children to talk to us about their day, we help them have mini practices at communicating and expressing thoughts, opinions, feelings and facts.  Kids and teens who get practice (and therefore get better at) at communication, conversation and expression do better at life in general.  

Do you have primary school aged children?

Here's an idea to make this process slightly more fun:  use the chart below and ask kids to pick three topics each day to tell you about (or some kids might like to draw mini pictures).   You might like to see if as a family you can have them all ticked off before the end of a term for a family reward.

Click on the image below or the text after the image to download the document.


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At Calm Kid Central, our child psychologists will answer all your "tricky kid" questions, as well as show your kids cartoons to help them manage worry and stress, calm down when frustrated, cope with tough friend situations and feel more confident and co-operate.

Do you have teenagers?

Charts might not work - especially if teens consider them "embarrassing" or "kid stuff".  In which case, you just need your own private list of question options you can work through.  Here's a link to an old blog of mine which might give you some ideas:  QUESTIONS FOR TEENS

Ask in a relaxed, casual, nonchalant way.  Don't look like you are desperate for info.  Any sense of anxiety/stress/frustration may send teens into shut down mode.

Ask about things they care about.  Don't just focus on school work (boring) but remember to ask about music, friends,gaming, opinions, world events - whatever they care about.

Don't take rejection personally.  Teens don't always want to talk with parents.  Not your fault.  Not their fault. But don't give up.  Try again tomorrow.

Charts might not work - especially if teens consider them "embarrassing" or "kid stuff".  In which case, you just need your own private list of question options you can work through.  Here's a link to an old blog of mine which might give you some ideas:  QUESTIONS FOR TEENS

Ask in a relaxed, casual, nonchalant way.  Don't look like you are desperate for info.  Any sense of anxiety/stress/frustration may send teens into shut down mode.

Ask about things they care about.  Don't just focus on school work (boring) but remember to ask about music, friends,gaming, opinions, world events - whatever they care about.

Don't take rejection personally.  Teens don't always want to talk with parents.  Not your fault.  Not their fault. But don't give up.  Try again tomorrow.