I will never forget how his eyes lit up. All year long, I’ve asked my preschooler the same default question: “How was your day?” Only to be met with a quick, “Good!” before squirming out of my embrace to find Legos and snacks. But on this particular day, I tried a different strategy. “Did you make anyone laugh today?” I ask. He stopped tossing and turning, looked me straight in the eye, and said with such conviction, “YES!” before diving into a detailed story, complete with goofy faces and all the things that make a 5-year-old giggle uncontrollably.
In that moment, I realized that my son had a lot to say to me — I was simply asking the wrong questions. And so I started to be a question-collector and conversation starter for families actually Let the children talk.
In fact, my disclosure has changed more than just the way I talk to my children (see also: marital encounters are increasingly common). “How is your day going?” is such a broad and monotonous question that it rarely prompts meaningful conversation whether you’re five or fifty. It’s the stories that motivate us—stories that spark core memories and bring a certain color and richness to our lives. And the story begins by asking the right questions.
But it doesn’t stop there.
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How do you have a good conversation with family?
Even with the best conversation starters in your toolbox, there are a few more things to consider when it comes to engaging kids (and parents, for that matter).
First, consider the time
I usually hold a “snack and share” session around the table after school, and that works well — for a while. But as schedules change and my kids get older, they prefer to play, eat, watch TV and eat again than sit and chat with adults. These days, dinner time suits us better. Every family will be different, but know that if your child is hungry or tired, no one will appreciate the moment when the family is forced.
When your child opens a window to chat, you never know how long it will stay open. Seize the opportunity.
Second, search for windows
Sometimes in the parenting process, there will be an opportunity to talk—really talk — with your child. But this is the stone man. This moment often comes when you least expect it, or when you’re busy, or when you’re not paying attention. OR when you were a kid most of Sleep and spirit, you’re already on the couch with a celebratory drink. The key is to immediately do the opposite: stop what you’re doing and pay attention. When your child opens a window to chat, you never know how long it will stay open. Seize the opportunity. This builds a relationship of trust and connection — and shows your kids that you’re there when they need you.
Finally, consider the settings
If your child has trouble opening up or getting into the flow of conversation, change it up. Perhaps your dining table is more chaotic than calm. In that case, it’s probably not the best place to introduce a new family ritual. If the right question is a seed, your context is the soil — it should be the place where the conversation can flourish.
Try bringing up a few people to start a conversation while you’re walking or cycling. Driving a car is the perfect place to ask interesting questions, especially when there’s a snack bar. When you’re out in nature or driving, it offers something else to focus on that tends to magically open avenues for free dialogue.
Now that you have the tools, let’s dive into the questions.
Questions to ask children after school
Try these questions once your child is settled in the car, when you get home (or after you finish homeschooling) or even after dinner. Mix them together, or if your child answers a particular question well, make it part of an after-school ritual.
- Did you make anyone laugh today?
- Who made you laugh today?
- Who did you sit next to at lunch?
- What did you eat today?
- Anyone in trouble today?
- Who did you play with on the playground?
- Do you play any games at recess?
- What made you feel happy today?
- Did something make you sad today?
- What is one thing you learned today?
- What did your teacher talk to you about today?
- What do you like most about your teacher?
- Did you do anything that feels difficult today?
- Is anyone good to you today?
- Can you help anyone today?
- Did you try anything new today?
- If you were the teacher for the day, what would you do?
If the right question is a seed, your context is the soil — it should be the place where the conversation can flourish.
Question about Family Dinner
Use these dinner conversation starters as a starting point. You can take turns answering a single question around the table or giving everyone a new question. There’s no need to rush from one to the next — the goal is simply to communicate. Remember to practice active listening, stay curious, and have fun.
- Highs and lows: share a high and a low for the day.
- What are you excited about for tomorrow?
- What’s the best thing about your family?
- Pick a person at the table and compliment them.
- What is one thing you are looking forward to?
- What is your favorite chore?
- What do you think makes a happy family?
- Your favorite meal that we have as a family?
- If you could invite someone to dinner, who would it be?
- What is one new thing you learned today?
- What made you smile or smile today?
- Tell someone at the table what you like about them.
- Share one thing you are grateful for.
- What is your favorite family tradition?
- Choose three words to describe yourself.
- Where do you want to go on a family vacation?
- If you could swap places with your parents for the day, what would you do?
- What’s the hardest thing about your age?
- What’s the best thing about being your age?
Start a Teenage Conversation
We’ve all been there once, so are teenagers such a mystery? When it comes to conversation, look for windows and nudge them when they open. Call out good things, validate their feelings, and help them navigate any issues or problems — but don’t do it. Because surname. Simple, right?
- What is good in your life now?
- What is difficult in your life now?
- Who are you looking for and why?
- What was the last thing you searched for on Google?
- How do you feel about social media?
- What do you wish adults understood about teenagers?
- What was it that you told yourself 5 years ago?
- What do you like about school?
- What makes someone a good friend?
- Do you have any friends that you are worried about right now?
- What is one thing you really like about yourself?
- What scares you the most about the future?
- What excites you most about the future?
- What’s the best thing about being a teenager?
- What are you proud of?
- Ever had a question you wanted to ask me but didn’t?
- If you could relive one day of your life, what would it be?
Start a fun conversation for the family
Stuck in traffic for a long time? These funny questions and interesting questions are road trips yellow. My recommendation: drive to the gas station first, let everyone pick a snack, then start the trip with a question before pull out the screen.
- What is your favorite word?
- If you met a genie, what three things would you wish for?
- What is a word that always makes you laugh?
- Tell me your favorite joke.
- Do you want to shave your head or get a mohawk?
- You just have to put on the sorting hat: which Hogwarts House are you at?
- Do you want to lose your social network or TV?
- If you could swap places with one person for a day, who would it be?
- If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
- If I gave you $100, where would you spend it?
- If you could only eat one food a day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- If you could choose your own name, what would it be?
- If you had a time machine, where (or when) would you go?
- If you could be a character in any book or movie, who would you be?
- If you could have any pet, what would you choose?
- Do you want to live in the mountains or on the beach?
- If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- Do you want to go on a cruise or go hunting?
- If it rained on food, what would you want it to be?
- If we all lived in a zoo, what animal would each be?
- If you could create a new animal, what would it be?
- If there was a movie about you, what would it be called?
- Do you want to go to space or dive deep into the ocean?
- If you could bring one of your toys to life, which would it be?
- If you could live on one TV show, what would it be?
Get to know you questions
Finally, these questions are good to have in your pocket for any occasion. Try them out when you’re FaceTime with suburban relatives or during a donut run on a Saturday morning. There’s always something new to discover, even about your child — and vice versa.
- If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
- What is your happiest memory?
- When was the last time you felt embarrassed?
- I wish I knew more about ______.
- Who is the most beautiful person you know?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What is your favorite book?
- When was the last time you changed your mind?
- Who is the funniest person you know?
- What makes you feel better when you’re scared?
- What is your favorite toy?
- What is your favorite movie?
- When was the last time you felt embarrassed?
- Who is the famous person you admire?
- What helps you get out of a bad mood?
- Your favorite place to go?
- What do you do when you feel bored?
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- What is one thing you are really good at?
- What is your favorite dessert?
- What do you like to wear the most?
- What is something you want to learn to do?
Final Thoughts (And How to Start)
Holding meaningful family conversations doesn’t have to be a major overhaul of your routine. My favorite way to start anything is to start with a small seed of change. Small is sustainable. So, what does it look like? Choose one questions on the way to school. Give yourself three minutes to connect. Pick one day of the week to walk and talk with the family. After all, the thing about seeds? They tend to grow.
(P.S.: Listening, reflection, and seven other ways to encourage confidence in your child.)