5 tips to avoid one-word answers from your kids

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WATCH ABOVE: Tired of getting one-word answers when you ask your child about their day? Laurel Gregory has some tips to get a bit more conversation out of them. – Oct 18, 2016

With school back in full swing, many parents are back to spending the drive home from school as the instigator of a game of 20 questions; their kids the unwilling participants. It typically goes something like this:

Parent: “How was your day?”

Kid: “Good.”

Parent: “What did you learn?”

Kid: “Nothing.”

Parent: “Did you like your lunch?”

Kid: “Ya.”

Global News contacted speech pathologists and educators from the Edmonton Catholic School District for some help zeroing in on questions that will lead to more thorough answers at any age.

Here is their advice to get your kid talking:

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Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions encourage more than a one-word answer, according to Shannon Kolt, manager of Speech Language Pathology at the Genesis Early Learning Centre.

“A broad, open-ended question like, ‘How was your day?’ is likely to get a single word response or ‘good’ or ‘not great’ because there were probably many many things that happened within their day,” Kolt wrote in an email to Global News. “You might try to pick a focus for the question such as, ‘What did you enjoy doing at school today?’ or, ‘What did you play with at centre time?’ and follow up with, ‘Tell me more.'”

Start a conversation

Kolt suggests using a conversation starter – a “tell me” – instead of always resorting to questions.

She provides examples: “Tell me about gym class.” “Tell me about someone you played with today or a game that you played.”

Ask questions linked to emotions

Frame questions around feelings, particularly for younger children, said Catherine Kraft-Urkow, a speech-language pathologist.

Her examples include: “What made you feel proud today?” or “What did you do that made you feel like a good friend?”

Get specific

Kraft-Urkow says the more specific you get, the easier it will be to engage with your kids. She says parents can often access course schedules online or even chat with a teacher to find out what’s happening. That can help them form specific questions about certain schoolwork or activities.

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The speech pathologist adds that bringing those conversations home builds bridges between what the kids are learning and their home life.

Kolt adds that responsive conversations can help kids build on concepts and new vocabulary beyond their school. That’s important because it allows them to try out their language skills “in a safe environment.”


For kids with buttoned-lips, Kolt suggests sharing something fun about your day. That helps children see how you build a story with words.

“Additionally, dedicating time to have this conversation when you are fully present and attentive to your child will help them feel more willing to share.”

Tweens and teens might be less likely to respond to the creative prompts, but an Edmonton principal says the conversations are just as important for older kids.

“We need to keep that love of learning alive in the kids,” Wendy Robinson said. “The more we talk about them, the more we show we’re interested in their school and what’s going on, the more successful they’ll be because they feel like everyone has an investment in their success.”

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