If we aim to be consistent, longevity will sprout into an open line of communication when your child or student needs it most.
As parents, we all understand how difficult it can sometimes be when you pick your child up from school or when they arrive home after practice and you ask the infamous question, “How was school today?” More times than not, we receive one-word answers like “good,” “fine,” “okay,” etc. For a moment, we’re thankful that our question was acknowledged before they run off to do homework or zone in on a screen. However, when we take a step back, we realize as parents we did not really find out how school actually was, how practice actually went, or how their social life is actually going.
Just for a moment, if you will humor me, I want to offer up three conversation starters to have with your children or teenagers daily. This is all-inclusive, too. You might have teenagers in the home who just started driving, or your ‘baby’ may have just started kindergarten. Wherever you fall on the parenting spectrum, a version of these questions is applicable to you. At the end of the day, when we lay our heads on the pillow, we are assured that we engaged in deep, meaningful conversations with our kids rather than superficial small talk that limits the relational equity we are attempting to build. Rest assured, it will not happen overnight, but if we aim to be consistent, longevity will sprout into an open line of communication when your child or student needs it most.
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
What was one highlight of today?
Now, this question has been posed in any number of ways: What were your roses and thorns today? What brought you joy and what was hard? There is no magical formula to how you ask the question. It is THAT you ask the question. If you ask stereotypical questions, you will get stereotypical answers. We want more from our kids and students, but it is not all their responsibility. It is ours. My wife and I have asked our kids these questions oftentimes at the dinner table and it is amazing what they all of sudden remember from the day. More times than not it begins this long explanation where we get to sit back and just aggressively listen.
Now, I mentioned the fact that we asked this at the dinner table, and I can picture most parents rolling their eyes at me and saying, “We might get one or two nights at the dinner table if we are lucky.” I get it. Do not pigeonhole yourself. Ask the questions in the car on the way home from baseball practice or marching band practice. Carve out a 10-minute moment before the kids go to bed or before they start homework. Again, the goal is to simply create an open line of communication with your student or child.
What was challenging about today?
I love this question because what might be challenging for a six-year-old and a 15-year-old are likely drastically different. My wife and I posed this question to our three-year-old son the other night, and his response left me speechless. He said, “It was really hard walking up and down the stairs to the gym today.” My wife and I looked at each other trying not to laugh too hard because we knew for our three-year-old this was a legitimate challenge on that day in particular. It is amazing as our kids mature what they begin to view as “challenging.” Here’s the deal: as parents, it is not our job to judge. It is our job to listen and encourage. We all know our natural tendency is to fix their problem, and it makes sense because we have been in their shoes in some form or fashion. However, the goal is to hear from them and not vice versa. As parents, we are inviting them into a safe environment to talk that is completely counterculture to the world. If not us, then who?
Who did you go out of your way to help today?
Once you have mastered the aforementioned questions, it is time to press a little deeper. I’m not suggesting you need to ask this question from the get-go, but if the conversation is going well and you are ready to continue the conversation a little deeper, simply ask, “Who did you serve today?” Or, “Is there someone you helped today?.” Consequently, in a world that focuses only on self, it is important to rightsize for our kids and teenagers what it means to serve others. This does not have to be some monumental act of service every single day of the week (although that would be awesome). It can simply be picking up someone else’s trash for them in the lunch room. It might be helping his or her teacher carry a box of supplies. Here is food for thought: it might simply be actively participating in class when the teacher asks. You get the picture. As Christ followers, we are called to live set apart, which is a principle we as parents can begin to instill in our kids right away.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
This is my encouragement to all parents. You are doing a great job! Give yourself grace and trust God for the results. What an honor and privilege it is to parent the children God has given us. Cherish every moment!
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.“
Psalm 127: 3-5