“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
“How was your day today?”
It’s not the response you’d hoped for, so you try again.
“What did you do?”
You’re dying for her to give you a gem, yet you’re head-on with the dreaded one-word response.
We’ve all heard it: “Fine” … “nothing.”
And we’ve all thought: It’s been seven hours and all you got for me is nothing?
Fear not, it’s more about the question then the response.
Some say there are none. There’s merit in that, but really … the first two questions limit the field of potential answers and set up the “fine” and “nothing” responses.
What you really want to say is “tell me what I need to know” about your day.
There isn’t a magic question that elicits exactly what you want to hear, unless you simply want to say, “tell me what I need to know.” It’s logical to be direct, but unless your kiddo is in sixth grade or above, this line of questioning will be met with “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” brings you back to square one.
So, it’s time to get specific. Ask a pointed question, get a better response.
Here are 30 Questions to Ask Your Kid.
These questions are primed to elicit more animated, brighter responses from your kiddo. The questions prompt details or at bare minimum, you’ll get a complete sentence. For me, asking these questions has led to interesting conversations, hilarious answers, and insights into how my girls feel about school.
The trick is to ask questions that are specific, such as “If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would it be?”
Or one of my favorites is, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?
Choose the questions that are authentic to you and experiment.
Here’s a glimpse at the list:
What games did you play at recess?
- Can you show me something you learned today?”
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
- Who made you smile today?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
- Which person in your class is your exact opposite?
- Who brought the best food in their lunch today? What was it?
- What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
- If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
- What rule was the hardest to follow today?
Asking a specific question is the first step, but finding the right moment to ask the question is critical. The door to the school bursts open, your child runs out and is eager to hit the playing field with her friends.
This isn’t that time.
Your question will be met with a one-word answer before there’s a backpack at your feet, a hug if you’re lucky or a “Oh. Hi, mom,” if you’re not.
If you want to hear her stories, you’re on her time.
Here’s what I’ve learned …
- Seize the moment. When your child is getting out of school or off the bus, she’s transitioning. She may feel grumpy, tired, but mostly, she’s in need of a break. Yes, school is engaging, but it’s also l.o.n.g. … and draining. Your kiddo needs a moment, so don’t bombard her with your needs. Let her come to you. She will, if you leave the space. Finding the conversation opener takes noticing, but when it pops up, it’s your chance to be there. The moment will quickly pass and soon you’ll get the “fine” response again, so be ready. The challenge is when she opens up when you’re in the middle of cooking dinner or driving in rush hour traffic. That’s usually when mine decide they want to share.
- Pause. Remember to leave space after you ask the question and again after he answers. Ask the question and then jump out of the way. This allows for him to add details. This follows the “How does that make you feel?” school of listening. You stay quiet and he’ll talk more. If he doesn’t keep talking, ask another question. I think, 2B4ME.
- Be an Active Listener. Listen, listen, the cat’s … oh wait, that’s what my mom liked to say. Active listening means, push the laptop screen down and pay full attention to her. It’s key to rephrase back what she’s saying so she feels understood and heard. Listen, try not to interrupt, and paraphrase her thoughts back to her to keep the conversation going. You’re in it too, so bouncing back and forth is good, but if you need to keep it about her, remember to pause. Active listening will help her put her feelings into words. Also, inserting “hmmmm,” and “oh” goes a long way to get her to open up.
- Create Downtime. Again with the space, but it’s key. Your kiddo isn’t going to invite closeness when you want it. It’s possible, but expect he won’t and make it your mission to create family fun. When you set up regular outings together, he can feel free to open up. It’s why my mother-in-law had a standing tee-time with her boys and why my mom asked me to rollerblade at least once a week. It’s uncool to say “You never want to be with me.” Instead, dial up adventures together.
Right now, my girls’ favorite time to talk is as they are snuggling into bed. Frankly, I’m ready to be on my own at that point – finishing the dishes, jumping in the shower, or watching an episode of New Girl. I’m tired and ready for me time, but I say “yes” and stay present because these moments before sleeps hits, when the girls are fill of questions and comments, are precious moments. I know that not only are these moments fleeting, but they’re foundational to our relationship.
Maybe your time is doing art or building things. Or going for a bike ride.
Whatever it is, if you find the time that your kiddo talks with no hesitancy, then you’ve found the golden ticket to hear his thoughts. For now. For the future.