Parents often ask me how they can connect and converse more with their children. These 10 focussed questions will stimulate conversations and develop an enquiring mind in your child at the same time.
1. How would you rate your day?
A perennial problem for parents is finding out how their children got on at school each day. A useful technique, bypassing the standard 'how was your day?, is to ask your child to rate their day on a scale of 0-10, where 10 is the 'best day ever'. This evaluation system elicits an open conversation. A high or low score sets a useful basis for discussion and allows comparative conversations about good or bad days. If replies are monosyllabic, opening up about your own day can spark conversation.
2. What do you need to prepare for that?
Getting children organised for the week ahead can be stressful for the whole family! It can be a sanity-saver to remind ourselves that children's brains and many of the cognitive skills we take for granted - for example the executive functions of planning, remembering and prioritising - are still developing well into adolescence! A basic checklist by the front door can work wonders, empowering your child to consult it and check whether they have everything they need on a daily basis. Rather than expecting them to be magically organised, parents can help children to practise these important skills.
3. How can we find out the answer?
Parents often think it's their job to supply endless answers to children's questions when a better approach is to place the onus on the child to do the research. Praise your child for their curiosity and determination to search for an answer. Technology can provide instantaneous responses, but it is important that children are able to distinguish between high and low-quality sources of information and to be discerning when weighing up evidence-based facts versus factless assumptions.
4. What did you learn from that?
It's important for children to learn from failure without the pressure of parental disapproval. Reflecting on something that did not go well builds personal resilience and throws a new light on failure as an opportunity for growth. Parents should model a constructive approach to their own disappointments, enabling children to see that making mistakes are part and parcel of learning.
5. Where is the evidence for that?
It is not uncommon for children to return from school complaining that they are unpopular or rubbish at something. Although rushing in with loving reassurance is tempting, try employing a coaching model: ask your child to think of the evidence for their standpoint as this encourages them to analyse and challenge beliefs, and diffuse negative assumptions. They can start to feel better and develop their critical-thinking skills.
6. What are you watching?
According to Ofcom (2014), 34% of 5-15 year olds have their own tablet. Young people are vulnerable to unwanted attention, exposure to upsetting images and cyber-bullying. Even with the best filters and locks, children are at risk of material that can harm them. Our best weapon is ongoing open conversations about what they like to watch or play online and ensuring they are comfortable telling us when they have cause for concern.
7. What do you think?
How can I get my child to be more confident? Parents often look to school for answers to this common question. In fact, self-confidence requires practice and is best built up with a safe audience at home. Dinner-table chat about political and social issues or daily life encourages children to find their 'voice.' Children feel valued when their opinion is invited. At home they get to test out different ways of seeing the world, surrounded by their greatest allies.
8. Can you think of a better approach?
Creativity and innovation are valued skills but how can we develop them? Whether they are building a Lego spaceship or writing a story, get children into the habit of thinking of a better word, a different way of expressing something or how to improve an invention. This allows them to unlock and stretch their imaginations, encouraging them to question and refine their environment.
9. How am I doing?
Asking our children how we are doing as parents is akin to turning over a rock: exciting but intriguing as to what you will find! It is surprising how insightful children can be. By modelling this approach, we show our children that we are open to self-improvement and growth and that we care! Don't forget to give them feedback too.
10. Do you know how much I love you?
While children might snub our loving attention, physical affection and parental expressions of love matter for children's wellbeing and self-esteem. Recently, I told my young son that I would jump into a volcanic lava pit to save him. Needless to say, he was most impressed!