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A few posts ago I gave you some suggestions for sparking a valuable post-movie conversation with your kids. You can use the same technique—asking thoughtful questions—to get a better answer than “fine” when you set out to unpack your child’s day at school. Or, really, any time you want to have a meaningful conversation. A father of four, a respected leader in my community, gave me the ideas behind this post.
The first thing you need to understand is that kids are emotionally complex. They have a lot of different feelings and experiences throughout their day. And they don’t have years of emotional growth to help them process their experiences. That means they want to talk to you about what happened at school. And talking about it will give them that emotional experience in a healthy way. Helping our kids handle their new experiences and the emotions that come along with them is how we raise high functioning, well-adjusted adults. And isn’t that our ultimate goal?
So they want to talk to you. They need to talk to you. But they don’t know how to talk to you. They’ve been through so much in the course of one day that they don’t even know where to begin! So you need to ask better questions than “How was your day?”
Your kids are perfectly capable of discussing their feelings about their day. They just need a little prompting. There are a whole range of emotions and experiences your kids might feel over the course of a day. Start by just picking one. If you notice them seeming a little down, try asking, “What hurt your feelings today?” You’ll get a much more specific answer than if you asked what happened at school today. Once the conversation starts rolling, you can help heal those hurt feelings.
You can follow that discussion up with a more positive question like “When did you feel smart today?” Or, “When did you feel brave?” It’s amazing how effectively a specific question like that busts through the layer of reluctance kids tend to wear around their feelings.
These kinds of questions and the open, honest discussions they lead to fit nicely with the ideas in The Whole-Brain Child, a book we reviewed not too long ago. The goal here is to give our kids the tools they need to reason through their emotions and experiences. Give them the tools they need to apply critical thinking to themselves and the world around them. And then we need to train them to use those tools.You know your kids better than anyone else—especially me. So I’m not going to tell you exactly what questions to ask. But it’s not a bad idea to have a few of these questions in the bank on any given afternoon, ready to use. It’ll be awkward at first. We aren’t used to talking to each other like this. But we can change that, each of us, with our own kids.