How to Spark Conversations With Your Kids

by Parent Co. February 19, 2015

I love talking with my kid. She’s six years old and full of theories, opinions, and surprising insights (which are often hilarious). Our conversations are always among the highlights of my day. Unfortunately, as all parents know, it’s not always easy to spark genuine conversation with a kid. Sometimes it’s not even easy to find out what they had for lunch. Monosyllables and single word sentences abound: “Dunno.” “Good.” “Pretty good.” I recently realized that I was getting boring answers because I was asking boring questions. “How was your day” doesn’t usually spark amazing banter. In fact, questions like that lead straight to a conversational dead-end. So I spent some time researching and thinking of better go-to questions to ask my kid. (I listed five reliable ones below.) Along the way, I also had a mini-epiphany. Talking to kids isn’t so different from talking to grownups. Reflexive conversational crutches are as boring to kids as they are to adults. Knowing how to ask better questions that spark better conversations is a skill. But it’s a skill based on a mindset, which anyone can develop with practice. This mindset is as useful for talking with kids as it is with family, friends and peers at work. I’m not suggesting that people practice their conversational skills at work so they learn how to have better conversations with their kids (though actually maybe that’s not a bad idea). I’m saying the same principles for meaningful communication apply to both grownups and kids. Consider suggestions from this ideas:Ted article “How to Turn Small Talk Into Smart Conversation.” They include:
  • Ask for stories, not answers” (Instead of “How are you?” ask “What did you do today after lunch.”)
  • Don’t give mirrored answers
  • Leapfrog over the expected responses
This Lifehacker post "The One Conversational Skill That Will Make You Better At Absolutely Everything" has a great idea:

Questions that start with "who," "what," "where," "when," "how," or "why" have high probability of thoughtful responses, whereas those that begin with "would," "should," "is," "are," and "do you think" can limit your answers.

Another tip that comes from experience: try grounding your question in a specific time and place. Kids especially respond to this. Instead of saying "What did you do today?" ask "What did you do in the afternoon in your classroom?"

I also suggest try talking with your kid, not at or to them. Of course we have to talk at them sometimes?—?we’re responsible for their wellbeing and need to let them know what's up. But as we all know, the only way to talk with someone is to listen to them. Listening is the most important part of having a real conversation. Meanwhile, we live in a world of lousy listeners. You’ll be an amazing role model for your kids simply by improving your listening skills. Here’s a WSJ article about “active listening.” Here’s one about how to tune in and become a better listener.

5 Go-To Kid Conversation Starters

First, the easiest way to get a kid talking is just to play the "would you rather game." Never fails. Otherwise, here are five reliable questions to start a convo with your kid.
  • "What was one good thing that happened today?"
  • "Tell me one thing that you learned today."
  • "What are you looking forward to this week?"
  • "Tell me something cool about yourself."
  • "Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?"
Here's a great list of 25 questions you can ask your kid about their day after school. Sara wrote a related to post on this topic here; she flipped it so it's about better questions for your kids to ask you. (BTW, it would be hilarious to ask adults the same inane questions we usually ask kids. “What’s your favorite color? What did you have for lunch today? What did you do at recess?")


Parent Co.

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