Great Questions to Ask Your Kids

Leafy Green Park

Whatcha doin’?

Her little voice piped up whenever she found herself with a willing listener.

It was the well-used question one of our girls offered as she made conversation with friends, young and old. It usually got people going with a story about their latest activities. She would then launch forth into her own explanation of how her day was going.

The thing was, she was barely two years old!

When she grew up to be a school girl, I had no trouble finding out how things were going in her class. Every afternoon I would get the full story: How the teacher said this – or her girlfriend said that – or that someone was in big trouble today!

Now an adult, our daughter is as outgoing as they come. She is always ready to be someone’s friend, or to help someone out. She is unfazed at the size of her audience, or at filling up silence in a conversation.

One Time Only

On the other hand, I also have introverts in my family. One of my two boys took much longer to get his head around speech. There was nothing wrong, it simply took another year or so. For example, as a two-year-old he was prepared to say each word he learnt, once. And once only!

“Train!” he pointed out one day as we sat in the car waiting at a level crossing. And that was the one moment we heard him say it.

“Cheese!” he said at breakfast. It was one of his favourite foods. But did we hear it repeated? Nope.

“Water!” Even though he drank water at every meal, the word was spoken just once.

My guess is he knew he could say it, so why should he say it again? It wasn’t until he was well past his third birthday that he began to verbalise, and suddenly it was a tumble of sentences.

However when he was older, trying to get information out of him after school was an interesting challenge. And his older brother was the same. Our afternoon walks home down the hill, through the leafy park (much like the picture above), were full of newsy items from my girls. But grunts and nods were often all I could gather from the boys as they ran wild and free downhill. Sometimes I had to quieten the girls, so I could catch the boys’ snatches of news!

That particular son is now also a grown-up. He too, is as ready as his sister to be someone’s friend, or to help someone in need. But he doesn’t command the same space she does, and prefers to be in the background. Although it has to be said, he is still happy to stand in front of a crowd when necessary. He surprised everyone when he gave the Best Man’s Speech at his mate’s wedding! Mostly though, he doesn’t seek the limelight like his sister. He is energized by being on his own. On the other hand, as an extrovert, our daughter is energized by being with others.

When it comes to being outgoing, these are the two extremes in my tribe.

The other three fall somewhere between them.

And that’s the thing. Each child is different. You would think in a family of five siblings you might get lots of similarities, but to be honest you find more differences!

As a mother with young children, I soon learned to tailor my responses depending on the child. Yes – there was one set of basic rules when it came to discipline and expectations. But each child was different.

I decided it was very important to throw away the cookie-cutter thinking, and to relate to them as individuals.

I had a big after-school challenge with my boys though. Because how do you get someone to tell you what’s going on for them with one word replies?

I didn’t ever get very good at this. Something about running around with five children makes it difficult to think through strategies very well. (Most likely, my mother could have taught me a thing or two here, but of course, that was not possible.)

After a while I realized it was pretty pointless asking questions with one-word answers. Although to be honest, I often caught myself asking them.

Questions such as:

“Did you have a good day?”         “YES”, came the response

“You must be feeling pretty tired now.”      “NO”, he’d say. I realise now that was a terrible one – it isn’t even a question!

“Did Charlie play with you at lunchtime?”      “YES”. Silly me, you would think I would have worked it out by then.

“Did you hand in your project okay?”                      Nod of the head. Not even any words!

I found out a lot more by asking questions like this:

I call them the W-questions, because they either start with, or have, W in them – What, Where, Why, Who, How.

“What sort of day did you have?”     “GOOD”, was his answer. Well, I suppose that’s better than Yes or No.

       “How are you feeling?”     “OK.” I mean, what was I expecting him to say?

“What did you do at lunchtime?”     “Played with Charlie.” Actually, I probably already knew that.

“What did the teacher say about your project?”     “Nothing.” Perhaps that was asking too much, as it’s unlikely a teacher would say anything at all about work as it was handed in. What did I expect?

As you can see these were still not very powerful, and it would take much more coaxing to get anything much out of them. But have a look at my recent finds! I have discovered there are other questions which really find the “chat” in chatterbox.

Try these for size:

“What problem did you solve today?” (I love this one!)

“What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”

“What part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

“Which of your friends makes you act your best?”

Where did I find such gems? I recently subscribed to parent.co. And every email I receive has one of those great silence-busting questions. They are just as good for adults as they are for children.

But thinking about it now . . . maybe this is the best and most simple of all:

“Whatcha doin?”

You can hear me talk about this here >>>

Not on My Watch!

It was unusual for the time. As a toddler, I had my own special car seat complete with toy steering wheel.

I would watch Dad as he drove, and copy him. It’s just as well he didn’t copy me, or we would have been doing donuts and wheelies!

A few years later, before there was any Australian legislation about compulsory use of rear car seat belts, Dad installed some in our car. This was prompted by the death of a cousin in a tragic car crash – a combination of speed, poor control, lack of safety fencing and no rear seatbelts. I remember it being a huge event the weekend when Dad removed the seat from the back of our car so he could bolt brand new seatbelts in.

Later still as a teenager he taught me to drive. He sat next to me patiently showing me how to control the car smoothly and safely. One of his huge safety concerns involved keeping a good buffer zone between our car and the car in front, to protect us in case of an emergency.

“Better to be safe than sorry!” he would say.

Obviously, my Dad’s commitment to car safety was very important. There were a few reasons for his vigilance. As a teenager, he had been involved in a motor bike crash – the street corner in Hawthorn, Melbourne where it happened was often pointed out to us. Then, as a young adult, he had gone off to the Middle East as a medic joining the RAAF during WWII. Sadly, he came back a broken man. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not properly diagnosed until he was in his 70s.

As a result of these experiences, he had a thing about speed, machines and death, and over-compensated in a lovely kind of way. Death was not something he wanted us to have to face. Ever. His family would not be injured in a vehicle. Not on his watch!

Even though Dad could be mentally unstable because of his WWII trauma, he showed his care and love for us, his daughters, in many ways. Car safety was just one of them.

As I dig deeper though, I realise it was way more than car safety. His protective instinct kicked in. He used his time, effort and energy to prevent a mishap. Although sometimes explosive in his nature, there was no doubt in my mind that he loved me. He treasured us so much. And it means I treasure him in return – even though it was not ever very easy.

It shows me that even if you feel very broken, uninspired, weary or are just plain sick, we can show our children how much we treasure them by the things we do. The priority we place, even on small things, speaks volumes.

It happens on our watch!

Listen to me talk about this to Scottie Haas on Hobart’s ultra106five >>>

 

Never The Same

The day of my 16th birthday dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window.

It was the first day of the school year. Year 11 beckoned.

I could hear some commotion in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they moved around to begin the day. I realise now that they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But by then, I had got used to them as the regular course of things in a household with a sick mother.

As it was my birthday, I was supposed to stay in my room and wait, while the others prepared to walk in with my birthday presents, brightly singing a harmonic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. But after a little while, Dad popped his head around my door.

“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”

He looked tired.

I quickly got up, skipped to the room next door, gingerly crawled across to the middle of the bed, and sat close to Mum. I was careful because I knew any movement caused her a lot of pain. She was thin and drawn. She smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.

I smiled back at her, and held her hand.

I had given her a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday less than two weeks before. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close.

I went off to school with my younger sister, not realising our lives would never be the same again. The rest of the day, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a full range of emotions . . .

Unexpectedly, Dad picked us up from school.

Sadly, he had taken Mum to hospital that day.

Hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.

Happily, I had been elected Form Captain.

Unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again.

Mum never returned home.

 


 

Last year Stephen and I took some time out for a sabbatical – a wonderful month in France. Every morning I spent time writing and reflecting on the way God has led me over the years.

One night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. I had spent the previous morning writing down my recollections of that final birthday with Mum. She wasn’t expected to last until Christmas, I had written. But, I reflected in my sleepy state, she made it to her birthday, January 22. And once she had got to that date, she kept going until my birthday, on February 4.

No, no, no. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!

I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of love was overwhelming. I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, and at hand, with me in her bed. A special memory.

Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted that long anyway. But in the intervening 40 years I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I have learnt that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they can hold on. They keep themselves going.

It was another week after my birthday before her end came. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to her gift, I have never had any other birthday marred by the anniversary of her death. I am so grateful.

There are a few things I have realised as I have reflected on those events:

  • My mother treasured me – and it makes me want to treasure her all the more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother was like, there will be times when she treasured you too.
  • Sometimes it is worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realise things you didn’t know before.
  • As mothers, we treasure our children, but often they will not realise what we sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time.
  • It gives me a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for me. Unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete.

Listen to me telling my story to Scottie Haas on ultra106five >>>

7 Steps to Leaving Your Children for a Trip

Heading away for a week or so without the children? Sounds delicious! But beware – there is sometimes a high cost, even with your best intentions.

Baby Sara (not her real name) was sad. Not even one year old, she could not be consoled. For several days, it was a tough time, for both her, and her carers. Finally, she gave in. And with all hope lost, she squirmed in her cot to face the wall, and zoned out. Broken-hearted.
A few days later her brother came to visit. He was his usual cheeky self, and on seeing him, Sara emerged from her lethargy. It was like she woke up, and the world was right again. Seeing that familiar face was enough to give Sara a new lease on life. She managed the remainder of the four weeks away from her family – just.
This incident happened years ago, but to Sara the memory still has a life of its own. She is now an adult, married, and with nearly grown children. Her response to being left with friends for a month while her parents went overseas to work has now become the stuff of family legend.
“I thought they had died,” she said. “It would have been better if my brother and I had stayed together.”
Unfortunately, the trauma of that incident scarred Sara for life.
“I couldn’t do sleepovers growing up,” she says with emotion. “Well, I did do them, but I always cried myself to sleep.”
It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that Sara finally connected the dots, and realised her separation anxiety was due to that brief period when she was a baby. Thankfully she was given the opportunity to talk it through with someone who prayed with her to release her from the pain of the memory, and the trauma. She was also encouraged to forgive her parents – a difficult thing to do, but incredibly freeing. After that things changed, and it meant she could live a relatively normal life after all.
She is quite philosophical about it all. “I know they left me there with the best of intentions, thinking they were doing the best thing for me in the circumstances,” Sara explains. “It was a different era then, and my parents made the best decision with the information available to them.”
As parents, we all have to do that. Faced with hard decisions about our children, we all make our choices – for good or for bad.
I admire Sara. She has worked her way through the issue and engaged with the problem. Choosing the difficult, but more gracious path, she has come to a point of reconciliation and understanding.

No one has perfect parents

As you reflect on the job your parents did as you were growing up, you can no doubt see places where they could have done things better. Perhaps you too were traumatised as a result of their actions. The challenge for us all is to let go of those ordeals, like Sara did. If you hold onto the hurt, the bitterness, and the revenge, it only hurts you.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting people off the hook, and everything to do with giving you back your freedom.

On the other side of the journey, here are some things I learnt about leaving children for long stays:

  1. It happens: Sometimes you must leave your children in the care of others. And that’s okay. Having children does not mean you stop having a life – instead they add richness and vibrancy. If you can travel with your children, then do it. We had some exciting overseas adventures with little ones. In Sara’s case, her parents were going to a country that was politically unpredictable and culturally unknown. It was clear they couldn’t take the children with them.
  2. Prayer: It is a good idea to pray about how to move forward in these situations. Obviously as parents you are the main care-givers for your children, and it is important to take your job seriously, and consider the long-term outcomes for them. Seek God about your plans, and if you do not have peace, then do not move forward with the idea.
  3. Set-up well: Try and house siblings together if possible. When we went away for a length of time we were blessed to have friends and relatives who could have all of them at once.
  4. Physical preparation: Make sure your children are familiar with the people who will be caring for them. Some visits to the house where they are to stay are a good idea, and maybe have a trial sleep-over.
  5. Verbal preparation – Babies: Talk to your baby about what is going to happen, and do it often. We were away for a week when one of my girls was only six months old. Every so often I would sit down with her, look her in the eye and explain what was going to happen. Especially, I would tell her we would come back and take her home after a week. True, she didn’t have the language to converse with me. But I knew I was speaking into her soul and spirit. We all managed the separation without difficulty.
  6. Verbal preparation – Older children: Give more, or less, information depending on the age of the child. Little ones do not always have an accurate understanding of time, so telling them three months ahead that you will be going away may not be helpful. However, you can talk through ideas, such as suggesting with enthusiasm that one day they might go on a holiday to someone’s house.
  7. Trust: While away, entrust your children into God’s care. This is really hard. But if you are stressing over your children, you will not be able to successfully do whatever it is you are going away to do. Sara told me her mother didn’t cope very well and had some physical stress issues during her time away. Sara wasn’t the only one suffering!

It goes both ways.

Reflecting on your own upbringing you can see where your parents failed you easily enough. It takes more effort to see when, and where, you have failed your own children. If you have let them down at some point it is important to forgive yourself. If you are able, talk things through with your child, and ask them to forgive you. Reconciliation is a lovely thing.

Five Golden Rules to surviving the “Why?” stage

Why do lanterns go up?

Facebook is a mine of information!

Recently and friend of mine posted the following plea . . .

Ok, Thoughts and opinions welcomed. Son is asking lots of “WHY?” questions at the moment, which is awesome but does make me want to bash my head against the wall just a little bit. I need help with this question, asked yesterday “When is something not new anymore?”

A friend of mine posted those words and oh my gosh! I could so identify with her. It seems as though every child has a time in his or her life when the reaction to every single thing is, “Why Mum?” or “What’s that there for?” or “How come?”

Talk about tear your hair out! It is such a frustrating thing to have every minute peppered with the six-year-old’s Five W’s: Why? What? When? Where? How? You could almost describe it as a syndrome – the Little Voice with Endless Questions or LVEQs.

So, when my friend posted about her son, I got it. The long-term effect of the LVEQs is enough to plead for a Lunch Break. Or a Leave Pass. Or even a Holiday!

I think everyone has their own family stories of the LVEQs. I remember my own exasperated parents saying to me when I had it: “Just because” or, “Because I said so.” It didn’t really answer the question, but it kept me quiet. For a minute.

And I must have asked this one often when out in the back shed on hot, sunny days: “What ya doin’ Dad?” and he would ALWAYS say, “I’m pumping up my bike!” Which was code for, “Don’t ask me, can’t you see what I’m doing?” It was sort of funny, but it was sort of not. I remember thinking it was a terribly unsatisfying response. I wasn’t asking any old trifling question – I was curious, and I really wanted to know what he was doing!

So, when I read my friend’s post, not only could I see her irritation, I could see her son’s perspective too. When he asks questions, he really does want to know more about the world around him, which means the questions often do require a genuine response. But it really is a dilemma when the record (or the CD, or the MP3 player) feels as if it broken.

There had already been a few responses by the time I saw my friend’s status update. Interestingly, at that point, everyone had given answers to the LVEQ raised by said son, helping her explain to him when something is no longer new. Which was great.

But no one had yet tackled the heartfelt cry within the post: “I think I am going mad with the LVEQs!”

Her frustration caused me to stop and reflect. I remembered that at the coal-face I frequently forgot something very important, and I was so glad whenever Stephen reminded me. He would say, “Jenny, IT IS JUST A PHASE! Don’t forget to keep a longer-term perspective.”

Only then would I stop and think. It is always hard to think straight, and keep the long-term view when you are in the middle of a maddening stage like the LVEQs.

Here is what I ended up writing in my reply to my friend:

I often used to say [to my son/daughter] something like, “Why do you think it’s not new?” That way you engage him in the answer, and get him to reason through what he’s thinking, instead of relying on your response all the time. Also… Remember this is a phase. It won’t be like this forever. One day you might be asking why God has blessed you with a monosyllabic teen! So, if the habit becomes to create conversation then it’s a good thing.

So here are my golden rules for keeping your hair on when going through difficult phases.

  • Every child goes through phases. It is part of growing up, so expect them. They can be good as well as bad. Remember to take time to enjoy the lovely ones.
  • Phases happen at every age and stage. It is more than just the LVEQs, it is also sleepless nights, teething, bad-violin-playing, learner driving – and the list continues.
  • Look for the good. Every difficult phase has a silver lining. Take a step back and be objective about the phase you are going through right now. Here are some positive outcomes of the list above:
    • The LVEQs – a wonderfully educational time, which can develop verbalization and communication skills. It fosters healthy curiosity. It also provides opportunities to talk about inappropriate nosiness.
    • Teething – well, one day there will be teeth, happy toothy smiles, increased food choices and sleep-through nights.
    • Budding musicians – Children who learn the violin, or any other musical instrument, are learning harmony, rhythm, self-discipline, and are growing important neural synapses in their creative (left) brain – plus a great many other skills.
    • Leaner drivers – Gaining a driver’s license is almost an unofficial rite of passage into adulthood for our young people. They learn independence, safety, responsibility for themselves and others. It can be nerve wracking, but once successfully completed will have a long-term positive outcome. Prayer is a lifeline during this phase!
  • Keep calm and carry on. Some phases are very dark, and it is difficult to find the silver lining. At those moments, the good outcome is that you are the one being refined, and your own character is growing through adversity. Will you become bitter or better? That’s your choice.
  • Phases are temporary. Believe me when I say, I am with you! It will not go on forever. One day, each phase will end!

In the meantime, let me remind you to treasure your children. Every stage is precious. Value these moments.

What are some of the phases you are going through at the moment?

Honour My Parents? Really?

Love

Part Two of Living on Purpose

“Being a parent is the most important job anyone could ever do.”

I read that statement by Christian rock legend Larry Norman when I was six months pregnant with my first baby, and I was completely flabbergasted. I mean, really?

To me, important jobs were things like being a politician, a school principal, a doctor, or a commercial aircraft pilot. How did parenting rank with those?

The thought stopped me in my tracks. I was fluey, miserable, pregnant – and I was about to embark on the most important job of my life. It wasn’t a very glamourous start to my big new career, but then, being a parent could never be described as glamourous.

That moment was a turning point for me, as it gave me a new perspective on being a parent.

But here’s the thing. Recently, I have become aware of the other side of the story . . . If being a parent is the most important thing someone could ever do, then my sisters and I are the result of our Mum and Dad’s most important job ever. We are a living testament to their hard work, dedication and love.

Maybe it sounds like I am idolising them, but to be honest my parents were not perfect by any stretch. Dad was badly affected by his wartime experiences and suffered with undiagnosed (and so untreated) Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. My mother ended up with cancer when I was eight years old, and died when I was 16. Both had their imperfections and difficulties, which impacted on us four girls.

I could easily focus on the bad stuff. There is lots of it. But right now, today, I choose to forgive them for all the bad things. I want to remember them for the good: the happy home they tried to create; the life they gave us and how they loved us through all the good and bad; they taught us how to live in the world. I would like to think I honour their love, sweat and tears by being the person I am.

But what the heck, even if they did nothing that was good, I can still honour them for giving me life because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. On top of everything, I know that “honouring your parents” – the sixth commandment given to Moses – comes with a blessing: “so that you may live long in the land.” (Exodus 20:12)

So, this is my most recent moment of truth: Treasuring my mother (and my dad) has a positive long term consequence for me.

What about you? Do you see yourself as the outcome of your parents’ biggest job ever? Is there anything you need to change as you consider your relationship with them? Can you ever forgive them?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this!

morris-girls
I’m on the left with Dad and my little sister. I still have that apricot-coloured dress mum made for me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

morris-girls
We were all dressed up, on our way to a wedding that day.

The BIG Coverup

Toys

For some reason this day four-year-old Joseph was cross. And I was cross back at him. I was asking him to do something which I thought quite reasonable. I can’t remember exactly . . .  it may have been to put his toys away. But did he want to do it? No!

At this stage, there were three of five children, with the two youngest yet to arrive. I was pretty happy with how I managed things with the two older girls, but my response to Joseph was another kettle of fish.

To explain my dilemma . . . I grew up in a household with only sisters. This means I had quite big gaps in my knowledge of all things “boy” – and I knew it. All the information I had about boys in family life was gleaned from my girlfriends and the relationships they had with their brothers. I had noticed big brothers could be very loving and protective of their little sisters. But I also knew little brothers could be incredibly annoying.

And I had one such annoying little brother on my hands.

So…back to Joseph this day. I asked him nicely to “tidy up the toys” (or whatever it was). Then, I asked him firmly. Then, I gave him the normal ultimatum, and still nothing. He was already in tears, and I was close. I did my usual thing, and asked him to go to his bedroom so we could both calm down. Generally he was happy to do this, because Joseph loved being in his room.

But still he would not cooperate.

So I picked him up from behind, under his arms, to scoot him along to his room for his five-minute time-out.

Which meant his feet flailed wildly in protest all the way through the loungeroom.

Which meant he accidentally kicked one of the heavy, glass doors on the video cabinet.

Which meant it shattered with a huge CRASH into little pieces all over the carpet!

I am not sure who got the biggest fright, me or him. But he did go to his room and stay there willingly at least. After a little while I went in and we talked about it. I said sorry, and he said sorry as well. Then we went back to tidy away his toys together, and he helped me carefully vacuum up the glass.

I was mortified.

While I did talk it through with Stephen later, I never told any of my friends exactly how that glass door broke – we kept the cabinet for years and it always looked a little lop-sided with one door intact, and the other side open to the world.

It was just too hard to admit I was THAT mother, with THAT boy. And these dramas kept happening. I felt like such a failure!

Why do we do that? Why do we try and keep appearances, and pretend we have it all together? While all along, underneath we constantly question if we can do this motherhood thing.

We wonder if we are making the right decisions as we bring our children up.

And we are even a little ashamed at some things that happen behind closed doors.

But this is what I have learnt: If you sweep the shame under the carpet and ignore it, it does not go away.

In reality, it is only by facing those horrible moments, that we get past them. It is only by admitting our failures that we can take a step back and see objectively. It is only by reflecting on what happened to us as we were growing up that we can understand ourselves better.

So next time you feel like a complete failure, let me encourage you not to ignore what happened. Think about it. Reflect on it. Write it down, or tell someone you can trust. Tell God about it. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

By getting to the bottom of it, you may find that next time you are in that situation you have the freedom to operate differently.

And that has to be better for everyone.

For the record, Joe is now an endearing 20-something, who happens to love working with extremely difficult young people. Who would have thought?

What’s your take on this? Do you like to keep up appearances like me?