Avoiding the Dreaded One-Word Response

I think back to my own childhood when, every night during dinner, my parents would ask, “How was your day?” To which I’d naturally, repeatedly respond, “Good,” or “Fine.” Always a one-word response. So it shouldn’t drive me as crazy as it does when, now, I ask my own children the same question… and get back the same response. But it does – it drives me batty!

Growing up, I always considered the question a polite question – akin to when you see an acquaintance and naturally ask, “How’s it going?” and they quickly respond, “Good!” without hesitation. But as a parent, I now know that the question is anything but a social nicety or small talk – it’s a legit question that I am very interested in getting a real answer to! But my kids, clearly, feel differently. Which is why I’ve changed my approach.

Instead of asking about their day, I now take one of two approaches. The first is to not ask them at all. Instead, I greet them, sit them down, and jump into telling them all about my day. In detail. Not the painful kind where I go through everything I ate… but the big details in a one or two-minute synopsis. They either ask questions or – typically after a few seconds of pause – begin to share snippets of their own day.

If that doesn’t work, I move to approach number two: The careful-not-to-pry-too-hard tactic. “How was your day” is a pretty big question that really does ask for a big answer, when you think about it. So instead, I try to ask questions that are more specific without being too nosy. “Hey, did you get to make that _____ presentation you’ve been working on?” Or “What did you do at practice today?” Try to avoid questions that allow for one-word answers or don’t naturally flow to a softball follow-up question. Bonus points if you can link it back to something you already know is timely.

There’s no golden trick that’s guaranteed to work 100% of the time – but sharing with your kids helps them to understand you and learn how to share themselves. Asking questions beyond the blanket question shows interest and helps your child to strengthen their own communication skills – not to mention increasing their self-esteem by knowing someone finds them sincerely interesting.

If those two don’t work, I have in my back pocket the last-resort advice that my own mother dispensed as her first resort: Be the chauffer. If you’re able, be the person who picks your child and their friend up from practice or after school, then leave the music going in the back of the car while you turn it off in front. Thankfully I haven’t needed to deploy that one just yet.


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