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 >>>

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?

Slowing Down

Slow down – Things happen!

SAMSUNG
Browns River, near where I live, is a go-slow river

I finished working with Samaritan’s Purse as the State Manager of Operation Christmas Child only a few days ago and I suddenly came down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. It is making me go slow . . . really slow. It’s probably not the best way, but it is surely forcing me to stop!

The bright side is that it has given me time and space to organize my copious notes, books and research material (more on that in future blogs). Plus I have started reading through some of that copiousness. And I’m doing some journalling which I haven’t done regularly for a long time. Already I have learnt a few things:

  • I feel guilty about not pushing through when I am sick like this. I remember deciding to “keep on keeping on” when I was in Year 10 and I’d had a horrendous attendance record over the previous two winters. While it is good to do that at times, I am now giving myself permission to stop and (surprise, surprise) the world has not fallen in!
  • While it is a long time since I have journalled, I don’t have to feel guilty about that either. I have reflected on some important things the last few days, such as what stage of life I am in; ‘crucible’ turning points over the last year or so; and my relationship with my Dad – who would have turned 98 yesterday. While no doubt it would have been valuable to have pondered on some of this well before now, that is time which has flowed beyond my reach like a leaf on a river. But I CAN take hold of today and savour this moment, without regret.
  • God’s timing is always much better than I could have planned! I am just so grateful that I didn’t get sick two weeks earlier, or finish up two weeks later. Now that would have been very difficult. I have to keep reminding myself that He has got things under control – and that’s much better then me trying to control everything.

Going S-L-O-W. Hard work. But worth it.