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Why NOT to Ask "How was your day?"

20150322 fine wordcloud

Meet my two daughters. One of the easiest ways to know them is by how they answer “How was your day?”

My Favorite Older Daughter whom I love the bluest** answers: “Fine.” And walks away. She’s not mad. She’s not tired. She’s just answered the question and she’s done. (By the way, have you noticed that there is no reliable translation for “fine”? For her, it could mean: “I just managed to keep from crying when I bombed the test that I had studied 10 hours straight for and I don’t need to talk about it. Thank you, I’m fine.” Or, it could mean “Someone asked me to the prom today but I want to think about it some more. I’m fine.” Or: “It was an incredibly boring day and nothing happened - even lunch was pointless. I’m fine.” Not only is she “fine” but apparently her day is “fine” as well. There simply is no definitive meaning for “fine”.)

My Favorite Younger Daughter whom I love the reddest** answers: “The bus got us to school 20 minutes early – again! <big sigh> And then … and then …” (The ellipses signify the massive amount that she goes on to tell, giving me the play-by-play commentary of her 6 hour day in the 6.3 hour re-telling. She leaves out nothing. I’ll spare you the example. You’re welcome.)

So, from that one question, my oldest gives me nothing – nothing at all of substance while my youngest gives me everything but nothing at all of substance. And still, I’m not sure from either what is really going on. Exactly how was their day?


My kids were born into the same family of the same parents and are, surprisingly, different. Though I am about as different from my own three sisters, I am still puzzled by this odd phenomenon that makes my daughters remarkably unique.

And so when I talk with them, I have learned (and continue to learn) to vary my approach.

For My Favorite Older Daughter, the question of “How was your day?” is far too open, too expansive: the possibilities of a reply are too massive for her to consider. Thus, my job is to hone in on a particular class or activity. Short of that, I might try the “superlative approach” by asking what was the most incredibly annoying thing that was said by a teacher today. Or, I inquire about the ‘bestest’ part of her morning. In any case, I’m ready with my keep-the-conversation-going follow up: “Really?? Why?”

If I can pull her out and pull her in, she actually has quite a lot to share; I just need to encourage her to stay on the stage for a while. This is the way that I learn about what is going on in her life, what she is doing AND how she is feeling. How else will I ever understand the meaning of “fine”? And how else will she learn the importance of sharing, of knowing that she is important to me?

For My Favorite Younger Daughter, the question of “How was your day?” is an invitation to share with wild abandon. If I ask about one class or one activity in particular, it’s easier for us both. It’s up to me then to guide her with reminders to find her “MP” (Main Point), to help her understand the concept of an audience and how to fine tune her storytelling skills. It’s how she learns the importance of sharing in a way that others can follow and relate to so that they want to stay engaged with her. It’s how I learn to find what really matters to her.


Most days are “fine” but I try to know what that means to each of them and make them just a little bit better than “fine”.

 


20150329 purplest cover**Recommended reading for children and adults of all ages: I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse, ©1996.

 

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