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“How was school today?”
“What did you do?”
All parents have had a version of this conversation. For some of us it is a regular occurrence! We all want to have better conversations with our kids, with flowing back and forths, but how do we achieve this?
Hi, my name is Kavin Wadhar. I’m a Dad of 2 kids, governor at a local primary school and founder of KidCoachApp. I started this business since I passionately believe that parents possess a fantastic power to coach their children in skills that will matter for life – creativity, communication, critical thinking, leadership, resilience etc. I also believe that much of this can be done through conversation at home – using questions and prompts that open up a dialogue and help children to certain learnings.
One thing I have discovered through experience and research, is that follow-up prompting questions are the key to a good discussion. Back and forth dialogue is where the magic, entertainment, learning, bonding and all that really great stuff really happens.
In developing and testing KidCoachApp we came across various methods to keep conversations going with children. Which you pick will depend on your style, your child and the situation. But all of them are good to havein your parenting locker.
I hope these seven tools help you to have a great conversation with your child today!
1. Ask Why (A Lot!)
Remember when your child was quite young and they would ask “Why?” all the time? Well, now it is your turn! This simple three letter word is fantastic at helping children think more critically and solve problems. Other variants are “Why doyou want to do that?”, “Why do you think that?” or “Why, what happened?”
Here is an example.
2. Adopt different (animal) attitudes
What’s the difference between bees, rhinos, eagles and ants?
When talking with our kids we can adopt any of these different “animal” attitudes. Each has their time and place and will also depend on your particular child (you might not want to be a challenging rhino lots with a highly sensitive child!)
Let’s use the example headline question of “Should everyone give money to charity?”. Say we got into a good discussion about the pros and cons of this and that your child formed a view.
What are the types of prompting questions you can ask, to take the conversation deeper?
Full credit to this idea goes to Gina Parker (Mullarkey) and Lily Horseman who wrote a similar paper about four different types of plants. I merely adapted and refined it to be more about animals.
What I like about this approach is that you don’t need to be memorising questions. You just need to channel your inner animal, to adopt a certain attitude. In so doing the questions should come naturally.
3. Scaffold: start easy, then get harder
Scaffolding is a teaching term which means to “move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.”
At home we can do this by making our first prompting question as easy as possible. A good way is to lead with a statement that turns into a question, rather than just a question by itself. This question can also be relatively closed-ended with only a few likely responses. The overall effect is to lower the barrier and make it easier to engage. Once we have their attention, then we can make it progressively harder by asking more challenging open-ended questions.
Let’s take the example of: “What are 10 different thing you can do with a cup?”(which is a great creativity building discussion).
Notice how the first prompt about playing drums upside down was easier, since it was a statement that turned into a question. The second prompt about the cup being really big was more open-ended and harder.
All prompts we have in the KidCoachApp are scaffolded like this.
You might want to join thousands of other parents in KidCoach community just pop your details in below.
4. Make contestable statements
This is an approach championed by Lyn Dawes, Education Consultant and the University of Cambridge. She writes what she calls “Talking Points”, which are deliberately (slightly) contestable statements put out there to just get kids talking!
Let’s revisit our example from before: “Should everyone give money to charity?”.
Here are some “talking points” you could say to stoke the conversational flames. Thanks to Lyn Dawes for sending us some of these!
If you like Lyn's approach then this article of hers is worth a read also, on how to help children "hold a conversation" better.
5. Be positive with praise
Praise, praise, praise.
Children can get scared of getting the answers wrong, even we are deliberately asking them a question with no right answer! In these situations we can slow down and just make some simple encouraging utterances.
The following list work well in almost every situation. I really recommend sprinkling them into your conversations with kids:
6. Questions that always work
There are certain prompting questions that will work in pretty much any situation. Whether you are building communication skills by getting them to talk about an article they have read, or building creativity by getting them to imagine a new colour or building confidence by getting them to reflect on their accomplishments – these follow-up questions are universal:
7. Silence is OK
I’m giving you lots of prompting question options here, but there are times when it’s best just to say nothing at all. Children are more comfortable with silence than adults are. When there is a void, we parents often feel the urge to fill it with chatter. We might think that our child is pausing because they haven’t understood, so we should say something to help clarify. Sometimes however they are just processing the information and considering their reply. So let’s give them the time and space to do so.
As one parent said to me after I had held a coaching session with her daughter: “It was absolutely genius the way you mixed taking time to listen to what she had to say and bringing the answers out of her”.
I’m no genius (let me assure you of that) – we can all make this approach work!
Need a hand?
I hope the above makes sense. If you need a hand then why not check out our App which has all this good stuff baked into it. It is designed to help you, the parent, ask brilliant questions. You will likely find that after using it a few times you will get into the groove of various questioning approaches and becoming up with all sorts original questions yourself!
Let us help you get started for free – download the App now!