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How to Have Meaningful Conversations with Your Kid

You arrive home and ask your child, “How was your day?”

They simply respond, “Okay.”

You try a follow-up question to get more information. “Did anything interesting happen today?”

“Not really.”

And that is where this kind of conversation typically ends. It’s understandable. Life is busy for everyone, and you’re both somewhat preoccupied. What do we have planned for dinner? Am we ready for next week’s track meet? Is there time to do a load of laundry? Was that the wrong thing to say to my friend? Where did I put my bag down?

Being distracted by everyday life doesn’t necessarily mean you are disconnected from one another. And sometimes your child isn’t being purposely evasive when they offer short, vague responses. Maybe the moment just isn’t right to talk about anything significant.

Finding the Time & Place to Talk

It is all too easy to settle into a routine that doesn’t allow for long dialogues with your kids. Synchronizing ever-changing schedules to find an uninterrupted half hour to spend together may prove to be more challenging than the conversation itself! But without shared experiences or regular discussions, your family can start to feel like you are merely co-existing in the same space rather than sharing a life. Set an intention to find the fleeting moments that can become short intervals of quality time together.

Alas, there is no “one-size-fits-all” set of conditions that guarantees the time you spend with your kids will forge a sense of connection or provide insight into their lives. They can eagerly share details about their day as soon as they get in the car for the drive home, then use the same commute for silent reflection the next day. There will be days when they only want to confide in their friends at school and others when they are perfectly comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with everyone at the dinner table. But sometimes kids want one-on-one time with you, away from the attention of siblings, peers, or other adults. Seize those moments when you can!

You don’t have to be sitting across from each other, quietly sharing secrets to bond. Try out different approaches to determine how your kid feels most able to connect with you. Take the dog out for a walk together. Visit a museum, aquarium, or observatory. Rebuild an engine. Spend an afternoon helping each other finish chores and run errands. Share some snacks at a local cafe. Chat while you exercise in the same room. Find treasures at an antique store. Do something you both find fun!

When an opportunity for meaningful conversation presents itself, how do you make the most of it? Asking open-ended questions can help.

Close-Ended vs. Open-Ended Questions

Close-ended questions can be answered with a limited number of options: yes or no, true or false, multiple choice, or a rating scale, like on customer service surveys. Responses don’t require explanation, so you select an answer and leave it at that. No need for further thinking. Great for quantitative data analysis and quick comprehension checks, but not that effective if your goal is to find out what’s going on with your kid.

Open-ended questions are designed to promote discussion because they require thought and explanation. For example, instead of asking the close-ended, “Did you enjoy painting today?” try an open-ended alternative like, “What did you like about today’s art lesson?” Your child has the opportunity to use their own thoughts and words to respond, and they are able to control the direction of the dialogue. Regularly considering how to answer open-ended questions encourages your child to use their imagination and be creative, expands their vocabulary and language skills, develops critical thinking skills, builds self-confidence, and enhances social skills.

Here are some other examples of open-ended questions:

  • Why was today a good day?

  • What was the best part of your day?

  • What part of the day do you wish you could change?

  • Can you describe what you saw?

  • Why do you think that happened?

  • What do you know now that you didn’t know yesterday?

  • How did you figure out the right answer?

  • What did you do today that was creative?

  • What did you read today? What was your favorite part?

  • What do you think that story is about?

  • If you could go on an adventure anywhere, where would you go and why?

  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Keep the Conversation Going

Give your child plenty of time to think about their answer. Listen carefully when they talk, and express interest in their response. Then keep the conversation going by asking more questions, sharing your perspective, and offering insights.

Every interaction has the potential to provide information about your child’s inner world! Some of your conversations will only last a couple minutes and have no lasting effect; in a few weeks, neither of you will remember the topic you discussed or the comments you thought were profound or amusing. But if you’re lucky, some of your discussions will continue for months and years to come, growing in depth and expanding in meaning as your child grows into an adult. Those are the conversations you will both remember.

When you savor small moments of connection, you may find that even brief interactions can become powerful memories!


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