My daughter has been at school full time this year.
She gets in the car at approximately 3:34pm. Many times her little brother is asleep in his carseat and I ask her to enter quietly and let him rest.
Pretty early on in the school year, I realized that the typical, “how was your day?” question wasn’t getting me anywhere. She would say, “fine,” or “good.” Sometimes, she would cry and talk about how she perceived the other kids disliking her.
It was beyond disheartening.
It took awhile, but I felt a growing gap in our communication.
8 hours of her awake time each day were happening to her, and she had about 15 minutes a day to tell me about them. And I wasn’t asking the right questions to get real answers. (Not that she could fill me in and process all that she needed to in the allotted time, anyway.)
Inspired by the “highs & lows” trend, (as well as Brene Brown’s ideas on self reflecting with her kids from her course, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, such as “Tell me about recess”) I started asking some specific open ended questions aimed at getting to her heart. I’ve been sharing these with friends to help them get more from their conversations with their kids, as well as adapting them for my own adult relationships when I need questions to ask, questions that let me skip the small talk without forcing intense vulnerability from the get-go. I’ve also been asked these questions now, by my kids and husband, since I started this practice. I’ve found that it causes me to reflect on my circumstances and experiences in ways that I’m clearly internalizing but wasn’t otherwise processing, or even altogether aware of.
Since I’ve been sharing these, I keep getting asked if I can write them out, and for the sake of time saving, I decided to write them out as a blog post.
I’ll list them here and then talk a little about each one.
- What was the best part of your day?
This is great because it focuses on the good. On a hard day, it calls out what was good about it. It also is open ended and ALWAYS gets my kids (and let’s be real, anyone I ask) talking. This question shows me what stands out to them – what they treasure, what makes them feel good. Sometimes it gives me an insight into their love languages.
To adapt this for an adult, or someone I don’t talk to on a regular basis, I ask them something like, “What’s been good for you, lately?” or “What’s the best thing in your life right now?”
- What was the hardest part of your day?
I’m going to be honest: I don’t always ask this one. Sometimes, I already know that because that information has been volunteered. Sometimes, I can tell they’re sad and I focus on the good questions and get to the heart of why they’re sad a bit later on. Sometimes, my daughter will shock me with, “I really didn’t have one. Today was just good.” Other times, she comes back to it on her own. She knows the flow of these questions by now.
- What was a moment you were proud of yourself today?
This is my favorite of all of them. Having self compassion and confidence is something that is VERY new to me, personally, and I really, really wanted a question that aimed to grow those traits in my kids so they’d be able to identify wins… especially on really tough days. Another reason I love this is because a lot of times it leads us to call out a moment we were proud of each other.
For example, yesterday, my son talked about a moment he was proud of himself for controlling his anger. He will often lash out in anger when he experiences any big feelings. He’d crashed his scooter and smashed his head pretty hard, resulting in a big goose egg. When asked about his proud moment, he remembered that moment – he said he had wanted to be angry at the scooter or be mad at just anyone. But he said he chose to let me hold him and cry, instead. He was very proud of himself. His sister jumped in quickly to say that she was most proud of a completely different moment… We’d been playing at our friends’ house and their oldest had offered to let our brave boy keep his toy handcuffs. Both of us moms agreed that the answer was no, not this time. We all get loaded to leave and we almost get out of their neighborhood when I realize that the brave boy in the backseat had snuck them out anyway. I turned the car around. We talked about our steps of apologizing/reconciling, and we went back. We went to the mom, gave her the handcuffs, apologized, and hurriedly went back to the car. He was embarrassed, I could tell. She followed him to the car. She told him, “I forgive you. I value you. Our family loves you. Can I give you a hug?” I saw relief wash over him like he’d just been set free. He had. The brilliant girl called it out at the first opportunity. She said “that took a LOT of courage, apologizing to an ADULT, like you did! I’m so, SO, SO proud of you.” I’m sure you can imagine that made my heart swell with joy. What a total win, to call out your own successes and have others do the same for you. What courage building.
- Was there a moment today that you wished you’d made a different choice than the one you did?
This is great because it lets me see if they’re grasping when they’ve made wrong choices that I didn’t catch, or didn’t correct, or even if they just held onto something for which they need to give themselves grace, or of which they need to let go. If they’re already struggling, I don’t necessarily ask this one. It’s the most optional at their current ages (4 and 6.)
- What are you looking forward to?
Man, oh, man do I love this question! It’s usually the last question I ask in the series if I’m asking all of them in one conversation. Sometimes, I ask it out of the blue. It reminds us all of what’s good. Of a reason we can maintain hope. It makes us check the posture of our heart if we come up with nothing.
The answers to this question surprise and delight me so often.
When the brilliant girl answered, “When we start homeschooling,” after we made that decision a few months ago, my eyes welled with tears. What a delight that she was actually looking forward to that. What affirmation for me. What a sweet gift.
- Who can tell me something good?
So, obviously this isn’t a question. But it’s a thing I say when I don’t have time for all of the above questions. Or when we’re driving in the car and it’s quiet. Or after one of us has just exploded at another. Or when we’re clearly struggling through a day. And sometimes, just for fun. It centers our hearts on goodness.
Sometimes, it also lets me know when someone is struggling extra hard – they might get teary-eyed, or angrily say, “Nothing good, Mom.” And then I get to be the one to tell them something I see that’s good.
I love these questions because they’ve helped our family to see one another. They’ve helped to build our relationships with each other. They’ve helped give us new courage. They’ve helped us bear one another’s burdens. They’ve made us closer.
There are some additional or alternative questions we ask of each other that I also love, or questions that are currently in process:
- What did you do to make someone else feel special?
(The brilliant girl gets credit for adding this question to our daily questions – it was her idea!)
- Tell me about a moment you tried something new, or a moment that you failed.
(Because success is great and to be celebrated, but failure is how we grow.)
- How did someone else make you feel known/special/loved?
Over time, I hope to add in the other open ended questions I ask, either as a continuation of this post or as a part two to this post.
Please feel free to comment below if you have other questions you’ve found to be gems for your communication.