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 >>>

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?

Treasured Memories

Newborn baby

Mary the Mother of Jesus can be credited for the Christmas story that will be told in churches around the globe over the next few days.

It was Mary who gave Luke the Apostle the details of Jesus’ birth – from her startling visit by the angel Gabriel, to Jesus’ arrival in the unlikely town of Bethlehem, and then the unexpected arrival of some shepherds with their crazy story about angels singing out in the fields. You can read the story in the Bible in Luke 1 and 2.

Luke made a few small editorial comments in this passage. One of them is this gem:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Mothers do that. We remember and we ponder. Details of each child’s birth are kept stored away, and these are not only thought about, but they are treasured.

While Jesus’ birth story is well known, public declarations of a birth story are not the usual thing. We mothers hold these details very closely to our hearts. I am thinking that often we hold it all just a little too closely, especially the painful memories. It is good, and often very freeing, to release those details for others to know.

The reason I know this? Because I lost my mum when I was only 16, it meant I didn’t have a conversation with her about my birth – apart from one snippet of information passed on to me when I was little (read what happened HERE). That’s all. And I would love to have known more about her experience.

So, what happened when your children were born? What about those who you ache for who were with us for a very short time, or didn’t even see the light of day?

Let me encourage you to take the time to record what happened at the time of birth for each of your children. Even the stories of those no longer with us. Your family will appreciate knowing what you know.

Your story or stories could take the form of a letter, story, poem, a series of dot points, or even a voice recording. If you are musical, perhaps you could compose a song; or if that way inclined, record a video. It is important to let them know the experience was costly. Tell whatever you are comfortable telling, maybe even the bad stuff, with or without the unpleasant details.

You may decide to deliver this information to a specific person straight away. Or to keep it for a birthday or anniversary, or on the eve of your grandchildren being born. Whichever way you choose to pass on the information, writing down your child’s birth story is a lovely affirmation and declaration of your love.

Your record of their birth story will become a treasured memory. And there may be a hidden bonus, because it could very well be a healing process for you too.

Have you ever told your daughter the details and circumstances of her birth? Have you ever told your son? What happened? If now isn’t the right time to tell them, how about writing it down for a special moment one day?

Living On Purpose

Now for the big question:

What is the most important thing you will ever do while here on earth?

Our purpose in life not something we wonder about every day, and most people reflect on these things only later in life. But I’m thinking that’s a little too late. For me, it was only by mistake I thought it through quite young. It was when I was first pregnant.

“For me, it was only by mistake I thought this question through quite young”

Sick in bed with the flu one wet and wintry day, I read a magazine article about Christian rock legend Larry Norman – I was quite a fan! The article gave a behind-the-scenes look at his life, his career, his family, and what made him tick.

I was surprised to discover Larry Norman was convinced the most important thing anyone could do was to be a parent. “Oh my goodness, he must be kidding!” were my initial thoughts.

His pronouncement caught me short and changed my understanding of “rock star Larry”. But more importantly it radically shifted my appreciation of what Stephen and I were embarking upon.

I realised I had very matter-of-factly gone about the next thing . . . you know the pattern: go out with someone / decide to get married / get married / try for kids. But, I had not considered life beyond that much at all. Even though I was pregnant at the time, the next part of the pattern – raising children – had not factored very much into my thinking.

I was stunned at what I had read. Really? Raising this baby was going to be the most important thing I would do? The idea stopped me in my tracks and led me down a path of intentional parenthood. A journey I have never regretted.

I believe God has a plan for each of us. He has every one of us here on earth for a definite purpose. Many people call this concept, “destiny”. Interestingly, we can choose. It is up to us to decide if we want to step into that destiny God has planned. For many, being a parent is part of that destiny. For others it is not.

Those who are NOT parents have other – and good – “important things to do”. And it is also true that those who ARE parents have other important things to do.

But for parents, let me suggest to you that parenting is THE most important thing. Well – so says Larry Norman!

I’d love to know what you think. Have you ever considered that raising children is one of your most important tasks – ever?