“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 a back and forth, but how do we achieve this?
Hi, my name is Kavin Wadhar. I’m a Dad of 2 kids and founder of ParentTech company KidCoachApp. We’ve written hundreds of quick, fun and thought-provoking questions that you can ask your 6-12 year old children. None have a right answer, instead they are meant to get kids talking and thinking in fun and new ways!
As we built and tested the app we discovered seven powerful techniques that lead to better conversations with kids. We baked each into our app but I wanted to summarise them for you here. Which you pick will depend on your parenting style, your child and the situation – but they are all great to have in your parenting locker!
I hope these seven tools help you to have a great conversation with your child today!
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 do you want to do that?”, “Why do you think that?” or “Why, what happened?”
Here is an example.
Issue revolved, just by asking why lots!
When we want our children to think about difficult things, it’s a good idea to start with an easier smaller question and then make it harder as we go.
Let’s take the example of: “What are 10 different things you could use a cup for?”(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.
This technique is actually a teaching method called “scaffolding”. It is a teaching term which means to “move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.”
As parents we don’t need to get too technical about it, but it’s good to know that a simple trick like this can help us help our kids figure stuff out. All prompts we have in the KidCoachApp are scaffolded like this, so you can just sit back and enjoy the conversation.
It’s fun to be silly with kids, e.g. “Shall we invite the Tiger for dinner?”, “What can I get you from the Moon?” or “What do you think about chocolate toothpaste?” 😊
Statements like these lead to smiles, giggles and super fast connections.
When having a bigger discussion about life, or friends or the world etc you can even push this approach become a little controversial.
Let’s revisit our example from before: “Should everyone give money to charity?”.
Here are some things you could say to stoke the conversational flames.
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! Thanks to Lyn for sending us some of the above examples; if you like her approach then this article of hers is worth a read also, on how to help children "hold a conversation" better.
Praise, praise, praise.
We all crave encouragement, kids most of all.
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:
The added bonus is that it demonstrates active listening, which means listening with intent. Not only will our kids then feel more connected to us, but we will subconsciously model how to be a good listener for them to act the same way with their friends.
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 revisit our 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?
We have questions in all of these styles baked into the KidCoachApp!
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.
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:
In the KidCoachApp we write several prompting questions for you to use, specific to the conversation you are having. The phrases above end up being used quite a lot because they work so well!
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 they are just processing the information and considering their reply. So let’s give them the time and space to do so.
I hope the above makes sense. If you need a hand then why not check out the KidCoachApp 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!
Alice is a mum of a 6, 9 and 11 year old who has been using it lots. She said: “Being a working parent, I’m mindful of the quality of time I’d spend with them. I want it to be as loving and memorable and fun as I can make it. The KidCoachApp helps me focus on the kids and helps me feel like I’m becoming the kind of parent I want to be.”
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