We all know the drill: the door slams in the carpool pickup lane and your quiet grade schooler buckles in. “How was school?” you ask. And the answer… “Okay.” Maybe sometimes you’ll get a sentence or two more than that, but mostly, the conversation is dead before it starts.
Here are a few questions that might prompt a more in-depth answer, and also show your child that you’re interested in his or her life. All of them can be customized—feel free to let them lead to new ideas or combinations.
One thing they all have in common is that none can be answered with a simple, “Yes,” “No,” or even the long-time favorite, “Fine.” Hopefully these can help in relationship building with the children around you, whether they’re your own or someone else’s.
1. It’s great to try to learn something new every day. What’s something you can teach me?
Whether it’s a fun fact they learned at school or a new game or skill they can show you, kids love the “role reversal” of getting to explain something to a parent. And who knows, that skateboard trick or trivia about photosynthesis might come in handy someday!
2. What are some “little things” we can be thankful for today?
Not just for November! It’s easy to get caught up in cycles of complaining, but taking time to list blessings from God can improve everyone’s attitude. For this, don’t think of major categories like family or freedom.
Instead name the sorts of everyday happy moments we take for granted: the smell of cookies baking, crisp fall leaves, a baby laughing. You might be surprised at what your kids come up with to add to the list.
3. Did you see anyone do something kind this week? Tell me about it.
Whether your child was the giver, receiver, or just a witness of an act of kindness, this can be a great discussion-starter. Be ready with your own story if your child can’t think of anything… and consider asking what small things both of you can do for others to brighten up their day, too.
4. What was the hardest part of your day today?
Sometimes this will prompt a story of a frustration at school that you can talk through, other times it will be a triumph of something your child struggled with and succeeded.
Either way, the hard stuff, from a difficult friend situation to those pesky algebra problems, make for great talking points.
5. Imagine for a second that you were the teacher/parent for a week. What are some things you would do?
This can be a fun “what-if” game, but can also give you some insights into what your child enjoys and how he or she thinks. Chances are, the answers will be a mix of serious and silly, especially if you have multiple kids chiming in. Feel free to keep on going with follow-up questions.
(“Oh, so everyone would get school off on your birthday? Would you have a party too?”)
6. Give me a “high” and a “low” from you day.
This is a classic for a reason—it opens up some great discussion, gives kids a place to vent and celebrate, and can result in some funny stories. Especially if you do this on a regular basis, your child will start to be prepared to answer.
Be sure to contribute your own highs and lows too so your child knows that even adults have bad moments in the day.
7. If you had to describe how you’re feeling today in terms of weather, what would you be?
This is more for kids 12 and up who can grasp abstract concepts, but when your teen can say they’re “mostly sunny” or “drizzly, gloomy rain” or “that calm place in the middle of a hurricane right before everything’s about to hit,” it gives you a better understand of where they are, and makes it easier for them to communicate often-complex and unnamable emotions.
8. What are some things you’re looking forward to in the next few weeks? Is there anything you’re nervous about?
This pair of questions helps you know what’s coming next for your kid, and how you can help them with both the joys and the fears they face. Even if the dino-dig day in science class doesn’t sound exciting to you, you can make a note to ask how it went later.
And maybe you loved piano recitals and can’t relate to your oldest child’s nerves, but knowing she’s nervous can help you be extra supportive.
9. If you could make a holiday to honor any person—someone you know or someone in history—who would it be? How would you celebrate?
This is another silly hypothetical question that can tell you something interesting about your child. It’s a great way to learn who they look up to and why…and some of the celebration ideas can be fun to picture, too!
10. What is a job you don’t know much about but you think would be really interesting? What do you think it would take to be good at that job?
Most kids understand generally what a teacher or a policeman does, but what about a reenactor at a historical site or a movie special effect expert or a children’s book illustrator? If you know someone who works in this field, consider following up and letting your child ask a few questions. But for any job, chances are you can find a kids’ book related to it at the local library.
11. Who is someone in the Bible who you’d love to talk to in heaven someday? What kind of questions would you ask?
We don’t know for sure if the new heavens and new earth is going to be a place where we can interview the figures of Scripture, but we do know they’ll be there! This is a fun question for a Sunday car ride. Everyone can chime in with a person or two and the details they’d most want to know.
12. What song that we sing at church is your favorite and why?
This is another great Sunday question. Some kids or teens will have an immediate answer to this; others won’t be sure, especially if they’ve gotten so used to the songs that they’ve become familiar. Listing a few might help get them started.
13. What do you and [friend’s name] have in common, and how are you different?
This question can tell you how your child sees him or herself, and what they enjoy about their friend (who might be a frequent visitor to your house). It’s also fun to ask how your child first became friends with that person. Sometimes there’s a great story there!
14. What’s the hardest rule for you to follow, either at home or at school? Why do you think it’s especially hard for you?
Some kids don’t know why it’s hard for them to focus or walk in the hallways or turn in assignments on time, but many do. This isn’t supposed to be a place to vent excuses, but sometimes you’d be surprised at how self-aware children and teens are about why they’re acting out, especially if you’re asking on a normal day and not right after they got in trouble, when emotions are high.
It’s also helpful if you can share what was hard for you when you were their age, and how you dealt with it.
15. What kind of advice would you give to someone who [insert situation here]?
This is a very open-ended question for a reason—it’s meant to be adaptable to anything you want to talk about! The example you give can be based on someone you know or knew, or completely hypothetical.
Whether you want to raise issues like gossip with your seven-year-old, know your daughter is struggling to know how to think about the boy drama going on in middle school, or need to talk through a current political issue with your high school junior, phrasing the question in terms of someone else can make it feel less personal and easier to approach.
We often speak more truth to others about their situation than we can about our own… and kids love giving advice as much as adults, but are rarely asked to do so.
16. What’s something happening in the world that scares you? What about something that’s exciting?
Both parts of this question are important, because kids need to talk about their fears in a world where most headlines are bad…but they also need to know that there are good things happening too. And for both answers, it’s a great opportunity to remind your children that God is in control of everything that happens. Nothing is outside of his reach!