How to go from “nothing” to "something" when asking kids, “What happened at school today?

Family values

The Dreadful Beginning:

It was getting closer to dinner time when I routinely ask the dreadful question.  A question which yields the same awful answer, said by my kids in the most nonchalant careless way, void of any emotion. 

But like a moth to a flame, I still ask it every day, one hundred and eight days in fact. 

Today was no different when I asked my kids, “So, kids, what did you learn today?”

“Nothing.” They said in unison.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.  With more details, I asked again, “What did you learn today at school?”

“Nothing.” Said in unison.

Yet again, I asked with even more specificity, “What did you learn in Science today?”

“Nothing.” Said my son.

“I didn’t have science today.” Said my daughter.

There are certain occasions when “nothing” could make sense.  Like on holidays, when there is no school.  And speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving was days away.  My chance would come when I would ask a different but typical Thanksgiving question.  This was going to be foolproof, as long as I kept school out of it.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving arrives.  The whole family is seated around the dinner table.  Here is my chance to test out the typical Thanksgiving question in preparation for tomorrow, so I asked, “what is everyone thankful for?”   

“We are thankful there is no school tomorrow!” Both my kids said in unison. 

I buried my head in my hands.  I knew they were really saying, two extra days of Dad not asking what we learned at school!

Thanksgiving came and left, but I never gave up.  I would figure something out.

family values

The Epiphany

One day, while driving home from work, I wondered if I should email their teachers?  Then out-f-the-blue, as I was pulling of the highway, my attention shifted to a song playing on the radio.   It was a song called “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”.  The song spoke to me.  I had put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to my kids and at the very least, they can make me happy by answering the damn question. 

Today, I will flip the script.  I will make them think, and I will be happy. 

It’s dinner time, and they knew something was up.  “Who wants to make me happy today?” I said.

Silence took the room.

“Who wants to make me happy today?” I repeated.  Silence again.  But instead of them answering “nothing” I actually got nothing.  Was progress? Were they thinking?  I rephrased the question, “who made you happy today?”  Nothing still.  One last chance, “who did you make happy today?”  My kids looked at me like a deer in headlights.  My kids didn’t speak a word, truly getting nothing this time.

I broke the silence. “Well, starting tomorrow, no one can begin eating dinner until you can answer these two questions, who made you happy and who did you make happy?”  Awkwardly, we all went back to eating our meals.

The Moment

Of course, during dinner the next day, everyone was eating before I can ask my questions.  So I waited for the right moment.

“Can we have dessert now?” one child asked.

And there it was, the moment arrived.

“No,” I said.

“What? Why not?” They asked as if the day before never occurred.

“Why not?” I repeated back.  “Because we all have to take turns answering who made you happy and who did you make happy?”

“I’ll go first.” I said with a big smile. “A student today said my help with their test was helpful, and I made some guy happy because I let him turn left at the traffic light.”

My wife went next.

Then my daughter, “Hmmm,” she said as she tapped her index finger against her lips. 

Oh no! What in the world will she say or would she say “nothing?”

“I made my class happy.” She said.

What, I thought to myself?  I got something other than nothing.  Dare I ask a follow up question?  Do I quit while I’m ahead?

“How in the world did you make the entire class happy?” I asked.

“I held the door open for them.”

“Oh.”  I said.

“Who made you happy today?” I asked.


“Why?” I asked.

“She said thank you for holding the door open.”

I should have seen that coming!

I looked my son next.

“What?” He said.

“Seriously!” I replied.

“What?” He said louder.

“Who did you make happy today?”

“Ahhh no one”

“Well, who made you happy today?”

“No one.”

Then, without any notice, it just came out of my mouth, “You listen here, you will make someone happy at school tomorrow and try to remember who made you happy!” 

I looked at Gabby and smiled.  I learned something about her day today.

Turning the Corner

The next evening, we all had just sat down for a three course meal, Gabby’s meal, Adam’s meal and ours.  God forbid, we all eat the same meal.   I wondered if Adam did as I asked.  I was staring at him when out of the blue, I quickly repositioned my eyes on Gabby.  “What did you say?” I asked her.

“I know who made me happy today?” She volunteered.

Was Gabby saying something about school? I thought to myself. So I asked, “Who made you happy today?”


“Why Baya?”

“She held the door for me today.”

It was a start.  “And who did you make happy today?”


Going out on a limb, I asked, “Because you held the door open for her?”

“No silly, I asked if Bailey wanted to play during recess. She was alone.”

And there I was, sitting at the table speechless hearing the song, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and for five minutes straight, we all talked about Gabby’s playtime and asked all types of questions. We talked about the game, the rules, and who can tag and who can’t tag the other person.  If this keeps up, we may talk about what actually happens in the classroom.

Then it was Adam’s turn. This time, it was three looking at one.

“Adam, who did you make happy today?” I asked.


“How so?”

“I held the door open for him today,” Adam reported in his monotone way.

“Who made you happy today?” I asked.


“How so?”

“She said I have nice hair.”

family values

And Happily-Ever After, or so I thought

Days later, our conversations grew.  Eventually, Adam and Gabby began fighting on who was going to say who made them happy and who they made happy first.  It was the only time I didn’t mind the arguing. 

Finally, I was tuned into our kid’s social life at school.  There was only one problem, I still didn’t know what was happening in the classroom.  But one thing was for sure, my children were happy at school and were making school happy for others. To learn more about how to talk school with your children, click here.

While family talks were my family value, add a comment what might have been your family value? Describe it with your family and place it on your Family Values Roadmap worksheet, downloadable as a free PDF on my site for free when you sign-up.

Share my story with a friend and ask them what would be their family value connection!


Sign up below to stay connected and receive a free Family Value Tree template and parent flowchart.  Be on the lookout for more articles to help shape and “grow” your family value tree or simply click here

Take a thought, leave a thought below

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *