“How was school today?”
“What did you do?”
As parents, we have all had a version of this conversation. For some of us, it is a regular occurrence! But we all want to have more meaningful conversations with our kids, right?
Hi, my name is Kavin Wadhar. I’m a dad of 2 kids and Founder of a Parent Tech 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!
The KidCoachApp helps you have more meaningful conversations with your kids, that also build key skills like creativity, critical thinking and communication.
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!
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 do you want to do that?”, “Why do you think that?” or “Why, what happened?”
Here is an example:
Child: “Mum, I need a new pencil case!”
Parent: “Why is that?”
Child: “Because I’ve lost my old one.”
Parent: “Why, what happened?”
Child: “I don’t know. I’ve just lost it!”
Parent: “Why, what happened?”
Child: “I think it is at school.”
Child: “Because I left it there after English today.”
Parent: “Well, why don’t you just pick it up tomorrow when you go back to school?”
Child: “OK then.”
Issue revolved, just by asking why lots!
2. Start Closed, Then Open
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 can do with a cup?” (which is a great creativity-building discussion).
Parent: “What are 10 different things you can do with a cup?”
Child: “Erm, you can drink from it…..not sure what else.”
Parent: “If the cup was upside down it could be a drum. What else could you do with it upside down?”
Child: “Ah, you could stack them to make towers….you could use them as pins and play ten pin bowling…”
Parent: “Great stuff, anything else?”?
Child: “Erm, not sure…”?
Parent: “OK, well what if we made the cup really big. Like REALLY big. The size of a house!”
Child: “That’s a big cup! Maybe it could be like a swimming pool then? Or a climbing frame like in a playground.”
Parent: “Haha, very creative, well done!”
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”. 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 ask the question and enjoy the conversation!
3. Say Silly Stuff
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?”, “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 to become a little controversial.
Let’s say we were talking about this question: “Should everyone give money to charity?” How might your child react to the following statements?:
- “Charities waste money.”
- “If everybody worked hard, we would not need charities.”
- “There should just be one charity that would help everyone.”?
- “There are too many charities to choose from.”
- “Rich people should donate more money to charity.”
- “Charities make people feel bad to get them to donate”
This is an approach championed by Lyn Dawes, Education Consultant and the University of Cambridge. She reviewed our app and suggested some deliberately contestable statements like the above.
To be clear, you don’t have to mean any of them (just like you don’t really think chocolate toothpaste is a good idea) but putting it out there can get your kids talking!
4. Praise lots
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 works well in almost every situation. I really recommend sprinkling them into your conversations with kids:
- “Keep going.”
- “Hmm, interesting.”
- “Wow, you have so many thoughts here.”
- “I love that word you used.”
- “Great listening. I liked how you built on what I just said.”
- “Great point! I hadn’t thought of that.”
- “You are getting really good at these.”
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.
5. Adopt different attitudes
What’s the difference between bees, rhinos, eagles and ants?
Bees are curious – investigating, probing, searching?
Rhinos are challenging– poking holes, pushing back, defying?
Eagles are conceptual – elevating, thinking higher, imagining?
Ants are collaborative – using others, open-minded, working together?
When talking with my kids I sometimes like to adopt different “attitudes”. Rather than remember specific questions I like to think like one of these animals above. I find then that the questions flow naturally. Each has its time and place and will also depend on your particular child (you might not want to be a channelling a rhino lots with a highly sensitive child!)
Let’s revisit our example 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? Maybe…
- Curious bee: “What are your thoughts on this? How did you make up your mind? How do you feel about your answer?”
- Challenging rhino: “Why would some people not agree with that? In what situation is that not true? Can you convince me otherwise?”
- Conceptual eagle: “Why is this an important question? What do we mean by charity? How have people’s attitudes to this changed over the years?”
- Collaborative ants: “What would your friends say to this? Who else can we ask for their view? What more information would help us decide?”
We have questions in all of these styles baked into the KidCoachApp!
6. Use key questions
?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:
- “Why do you think that?”
- “Can you give me an example of what you mean?”
- “What’s the opposite of what you just said?”
- “How is this similar or different to X?”
- “What are the pros and cons of this approach?”
- “What would someone else think about this e.g. your brother, your friend, your teacher?”
- “What could happen next?”
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!
7. Be silent!
We are giving you lots of question and conversation ideas, 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. Perhaps we think our child is pausing because they haven’t understood, and we want to say something to help clarify.
Don’t! Most of the time children 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 we tested the KidCoach questions 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!
Download the KidCoachApp
I hope the above tips are super helpful and you can apply at least one when you see the kids next!
If you are feeling inspired to have better conversations with your 6-12-year-old kids, and could do with some questions in the palm of your hand – then why not give the KidCoachApp a go?
Alice is a mum of a 6, 9 and 11-year-old who has been using it lots this year. 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.”