She asks at that mini crises moment – the last few minutes before we leave for school. Book bags, PE kits, swimming kits, water bottles, lunch bottles, school projects, car keys, phone, house keys, coats, hats, scarves, gloves. “Mum, why do we have to go to school?” My brain was frazzled and all I wanted to say was: “Because you have to!” All I wanted to be was an octopus with enough hands to grab and glide smoothly to the car.
According to a survey of 1 000 British mums with children aged between two and ten, girls aged four are the most curious, asking an incredible 390 questions per day. The number of questions kids asks falls with age, but they increase in difficulty, leaving us scratching our heads or relying on Google. But even Google would struggled to answer Cara’s question a few days ago: “Mum, I know God exist, but why does He exist?”
Answering our children’s questions during a time in their development when their brains are naturally curious, could be one of the most important gifts we ever give our children. I wish I can say that I am always patient, engaging and responsive when I have those questions flying my way. I wish I can say that our dinner times are always filled with deep, meaningful and interesting conversations. I wish I could…but I can’t.
However, in a world where the average child is spending a staggering 3 to 7 hours in front of a screen, I’m becoming deeply concerned. I’m worried that our kids are losing the ability to become artful conversationalists. To be honest I don’t think it only applies to our children either. I am convinced that all of us have grown lazy in our ability to connect with one another. And I think this should change.
We need to start when our children are young. We need to put our phones down, stop what we are doing, look our children in the eyes and engage fully. Answer their questions. Even if it is question number two hundred and twenty for the day. This is one of the first steps in teaching them the art of conversations. Listening to others, respecting others, having deep, meaningful conversations and enjoying being with one another (instead of with a screen!).
With that in mind, here’s three things to think about next time your child asks a question:
- Be intentional. Stop, listen and respond to your child each time he or she asks a question.
- Go deeper. If your child is able to keep the conversation going, don’t just stop after answering his first question. Draw him out by asking a second question. There is always more to come if you can continue to listen and refrain from moving on. Ask a question like: “How did it feel when that happened?” “Can you tell us more?” “Wow, why do think that is?”
- Don’t be judgemental. Even if you don’t agree with what your child is saying, affirm their response, praise them for giving the question some thought and having the courage to share his thoughts.
A great activity for practising having conversations, is a game I call: “Tell Me”. One of my dear friends send me a message over the weekend, sharing how much they are enjoying hearing their children’s answers in the “Tell Me” activity.
Here’s how to play:
- Download and print the sheet with questions, cut each one out and place it in a jar. Download now
- Find a suitable time to dip into the jar, grab a question or two and spent some time talking about it. As a family, we are now in the midst of one of the craziest busiest time ever – moving across continents – but we’ve committed to doing this activity at least twice a week, after dinner.
- The only rule is that we will have just one conversation at a time. Each of us will get some time to respond and we don’t talk if somebody else is talking.
- With all of the questions, there is the possibility to go deeper and ask a second question, like “why?” or “tell me more”.
What is the strangest and most difficult question your child has ever asked you? And how did you respond? Tell me in the comments below.