I generally tend to figure out how to do things in life right before they come to an end. Like, I finally got uber-good at sneaking in productive work-outs around long job hours–and then got knocked up and quit my job. I nailed feeding a baby while caring for a toddler–and then my baby became a toddler herself. I aced getting to preschool pick-up on time–about a week before my son’s graduation.
So of course it makes sense, that now, 16 days before the school year ends (not that Mommy is counting), I finally figured out how to get my kids to talk about their days.
If you’ve ever been driving a car, begging your children, “Tell me about your day”, only to be met with a mumbly murmur or worse, a clipped “It was good” answer, you know exactly what I mean. I studied child development, and I get it: the question I’m asking is big for my 3 and 5 year olds. But yet, even when I more specifically zeroed in on what they did in gym or what they chatted about with their friends, the silence resounded. The kids weren’t into filling me in.
One day recently, weary of this daily battle, I had a flash of inspiration. I remembered how some families take turns going around the dinner table, each sharing a low and a high from their day. This could work for my children after school!? They operate well with rules, but the rule that they tell Mommy about their day was too vague. If I posed a specific set of questions they knew in advance they’d be asked? This might just work.
Upon getting everyone loaded in the Swagger Wagon, I said excitedly, “Guys! I have a surprise!” (This may have been overselling it; the chipper tone of my voice intimated more a circus coming to town than a new set of conversation rules.) “Today we are going to start answering 3 questions every day.”
(insert a whole lot of confused little kid whining)
I refused to be daunted, “So this is how it works. Each day I am going to ask you 3 questions you need to answer:
- What was something that made you happy?
- What is something we can pray about for you?
- What is something you learned?”
Boom! It was like the magic ticket. By asking these three questions they started chattering.
Why do these three questions work so well to encourage the kind of conversation you want to have with your kids?
- The questions avoid the dead-ends of yes and no questions, and leave enough room for substantial responses.
- The questions are small enough not to overwhelm younger or tired kids.
- The questions are general enough to be asked every day, so kids who like order and routine know what to expect.
- The questions cover the three things I genuinely want to know as a mom: what is going well at school, what do you need help with, and are you actually learning anything (tell me our mad-dash crazed runs out the door in the morning are worth it)
- These questions support our belief that school is about both learning and fun, while stressing that if something isn’t going so well, I care and want to help them (while reinforcing our faith that we take our concerns to God).
They aren’t fail-proof. I’ve learned quickly to make a rule that you aren’t allowed to answer, “Same as yesterday” (or verbatim report the same thing as yesterday). There are days that the kids are simply cranky and not in the mood to chat; their answers might be really short.
That’s okay. The questions aren’t set up to dictate. If they don’t generate flowing responses some days, that’s fine. They are just a way to help guide us to productive conversation. And by productive, I mean that Mommy gets a clue as to how their days went and it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.
For the most part, my kids think the questions are fun. Some days they plan ahead of time something they really want to tell me (awesome!), and some days they want me to answer too (though they are often less impressed with my answers–successfully installing new plug-ins is decidedly less wow-worthy than learning to how to spell cat).
The questions help. They help the kids talk more and help me understand their days better. So for us, they’re a win.
Here’s to some chatty car rides, friends!