Would you rather be eaten by a shark or stung to death by bees? Well…? Morbid, I know. But ask your kids the same question and watch what happens. They love this stuff. It not only gets them thinking, deliberating even; it gets them talking.
Some kids don’t need any prompting, they can talk underwater (we’ve got one of them). Others are more the ‘keep it simple’ kind of kids, using as few words as possible (yep, we’ve got one of them too!). We learn as parents to ask open ended questions to get more out of them, you know, the kinds of questions requiring more than a yes or a no. But the bottom line is, kids all over the country clam up at the ‘how was your day’ question every day after school.
Does it matter? Yes and no. It doesn’t matter if they don’t chat much about the ins and outs of their day per se, but it does matter that relaxed communication lines are kept open. That way, when they want to talk, or need to talk, they will.
It’s also about us, as parents, finding the topics they do want to chat about (star wars Lego anyone?) and letting our kids know that we care about them, about what happens to them, and reinforcing the idea that we’re willing and ready to listen when they’re ready to talk.
So what can we do when “how was your day?”, “anything cool happen at school?”, “what were the best and the worst things about your day?” or “what did you get up to at lunchtime?” have all worn thin?
We can think outside the box and start asking different questions. Questions they’ll want to answer which achieves our main aim of having a great chat with them, often. That way, the important stuff about the time when we’re not with them, like at school, might even begin to flow more naturally.
Let’s start asking the types of questions that make them laugh, perplex them, have them weighing up pros and cons and prompt them to think in meaningful ways about some really big ideas.
Kids are amazing, and I’m willing to bet there’ll be times when you’re floored by what they say in answer to questions like; would you rather win five million dollars, or win one million dollars and have 20 neighbours all win one million dollars as well?
Would you rather lose your sense of sight or lose your sense of hearing?
Would you rather be the smartest person in your year or the most popular person in your year?
And don’t forget the important questions like “would you rather eat a tin of cat food or an oyster sandwich?” Ewwww. It’s always good to follow up their answer with “why” too.
When asked if she’d rather be a rat or a slug, our daughter chose rat so she wouldn’t have to be in slow motion all the time! Clearly she’s a girl who wants to get from A to B without delay!
What about some questions with a moral edge to them such as: “Imagine you start a company making sneakers and you get 50 people to come to work for you. How much should you pay them? As little as possible? Enough for them to have a good life? Or a share of the profits for those who work just as hard as you?
I wonder what they’ll say if you ask them “do people start off good or bad?” Or get them to imagine that they could turn anything they touch to gold (unless wearing gloves) then ask what their life would be like and how the world would change for them.
Could make for interesting conversation if you ask them “should people with money to spare give money to assist those in other parts of the world who are starving? Why or why not?”
Meaningful conversations help develop strong connections within families. And strong connections with family and friends is what underpins happiness. While anytime is a good time for a chat, family meal times are a perfect opportunity to forego the usual “no you’re not having any more sauce” and “would you eat like that if Trent Cotchin was at the table?” for more imaginative and though-provoking conversations.
Not only will you strengthen relationships with your kids, research shows that there’s a long list of benefits that stem from eating together as a family including boosting kids’ vocabulary, increasing their sense of security and belonging, broadening the types of foods they eat, increasing the nutrients they consume, improving their academic performance, lowering the likelihood of teenagers engaging in high risk activities and promoting mental health for everyone.
One classic dinner table conversation starter has always been “if you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you choose?”
Masterfoods developed their #makedinnertimematter campaign around this, asking parents this question and then their kids, filming their responses. The parents had a variety of answers from Jimi Hendrix to Justin Bieber to Nelson Mandela; but the kids were unanimous, saying they’d want to have dinner with their family. It’s heart-warming, and shows just how much family means to kids.
We can all help make brekkie, lunch or dinner time matter with just a few new ideas. For more ideas I love ‘Talk With Your Kids: Big Ideas’ by Michael Parker and ‘100 Questions: A Toolkit for Families’ from The School of Life. There are also heaps of great resources online.
Oh, and by the way, I’d rather be eaten by a shark – you?