“How was Sunday school?”
“What did you do?”
“Same old stuff.”
“What did you learn?”
If you frequently have conversations like this when talking with your children on the way home from church, take heart! You’re not alone. I’ve talked with hundreds of parents in America, Canada, Europe, and Central Asia who love their kids, but are similarly frustrated.
Whether talking about school or Sunday school, let me suggest some guidelines and better questions that might solve your frustrations.
- Offer an option. Depending on the age of your daughter, you might want to ask if she is willing to talk about Sunday school. If she would rather not, try to respect her. I imagine you occasionally have activities or entire days you would rather not talk about. And many children who say they don’t want to talk actually do open up later, in their own time. Keep in mind that the option to not talk is a privilege. You do need to know what is going on. If your daughter never wants to talk with you, work hard to discern the reasons. (For example, think about this common reason, expressed beautifully by a 14-year-old girl: “It really bugs me that now that I’m a teenager my parents ask me about everything. Why do they care all of a sudden? And, they don’t just ask about school. Now they’re asking about friends and everything. Why don’t they trust me? Do they think they didn’t raise me right? Why weren’t they interested in my life a year ago? It just makes me not want to talk to them at all.”)
- Let your child initiate. When possible, let your son discuss Sunday school, youth group, his job, his school day, etc. when he is ready. Let him know you’re available and that you hope he will share.
- Listen. After asking a question, listen – really listen – to your children when they answer. Engage in a real conversation. Listen to learn and exchange ideas, not to judge. Many children tell me they don’t believe their parents listen to their answers. This is one of the reasons they stop answering them.
- Create mutual conversations. Encouraging your son to ask you questions about your day may cause him to feel less singled out for “interrogation.” (Children I speak with often use that word when discussing this nightly ritual!) It’s as valuable for him to know specifics about your day as it is for you to know about his.
- Model vulnerability. Try a family sharing time of highlights and “lowlights.” It’s very important to know the good and the “bad” and when parents share, too, children often open up. Such times are also excellent opportunities to model right thinking about your successes and “failures.”
Now to the questions. Try some new ones for a change of pace, perhaps including some of those listed below. Note that even the “open-ended” and “choose-an-option” questions are meant to bring out specific responses.
Questions You Can Use
- What’s ONE thing you learned today?
- What’s ONE thing you learned abouttoday? (Fill in the blank with something you know your child is currently studying. For example, worship, compound words, or the Korean conflict. Or complete the question with “yourself, a friend, or a teacher.” This may prompt talk about significant relationships.)
- What’s ONE thing you learned or did intoday? (Fill in the blank with a subject your child is studying, for example, English, math, music, library. It’s even a good idea to include typical places like “on the bus,” “on the playground,” and “in the cafeteria.”)
Try this . . .
Make a deck of cards from which to draw. Just write a different subject or topic on each card. Or, you can use dice. Just assign numbers to subjects/topics. For example, 1=English, 2=math, 3=three details of your day, 4=character quality, 5=parent’s choice, 6=skip your turn. This is most effective when you also take your turn choosing a card or rolling a die. You will then get to model that you still learn and use what you’ve learned. Just draw a card or shake a die and do what it says. Someone who shakes a die and gets a 2 would talk about math – what was learned in class and/or how math was used that day. How about thinking of your own ideas to inject an element of fun into your conversations? It’s worth it because children will often talk more in a game atmosphere.
- What would you like to tell me about?
- Which one of these do you want to talk about: a cool Bible verse, answered prayers, a struggle you’re having, or the lyrics of a song you either like or don’t like? (Make sure to rotate through all parts of their day and spiritual disciplines.)
- What part of your day did you especially like? Not like? Why?
- What was surprising today? Disappointing? Interesting? Boring? Easy? Difficult?
- What or who encouraged you today?
And, one more bit of advice: The next time your child answers “Nothing” to the question “What did you learn today?” answer with “That’s not true!” This just may stun your child into admitting what he or she learned.