I don't have my own kids, but I was a nanny for several years, and even I am familiar with the awkwardly silent car rides when kids don't feel like talking. As a nanny, it's not a huge problem. My job was to keep them safe and also provide some fun, so I'd give them time to wind down from school during the car ride and then start the games and fun when we got home.
But for parents, you want to connect with your kids on a deeper level. You want to know what they are thinking about, what fears they have and how you can help with anything they are struggling with. And even if you are home with them all day, it can still feel hard to communicate at times.
Imperfect Families is a great parenting resource, and they put together a list of 45 questions that will get your kids talking, plus some communication tips, in How to Ask Simple Open-Ended Questions Kids Really Want to Answer.
This list of 45 open-ended questions for kids will fill those awkward silences and eliminate one-word answers to keep your family talking! Unfortunately, you can’t force kids to talk. But, you can do a few things to encourage their participation in a conversation.
- Keep things simple. Asking questions beyond “how was your day” might be a stretch for you, and that’s OK. You don’t have to be the world’s most creative conversationalist. Use the list below and pick one question to try this week.
- Don’t force it. Sometimes, the timing is just not right. Your child may not be in the mood to talk about silly things. Being present with your child in silence, especially if they are struggling, can send a powerful message of support and love.
- Eye contact is optional. Sitting across the table from a parent may be uncomfortable for some kids. Instead, use activities like bike riding, taking a walk, or riding in the car as opportunities for conversation.
- Ask the right questions. Open-ended questions keep the conversation going because they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” Think outside “what did you do at school today” and use these questions to explore things you may have never discussed before.
- Watch your response. Your child will clam up if you use this time for teaching, correcting, criticism or unfriendly sarcasm. Stay away from lecturing or making the discussion about you.
- Be genuinely curious. Kids know when we’re faking interest. If they give an interesting or unusual answer, follow up with, “Why?” or “Tell me more about that.” or “Cool!” or “I had no idea, thanks for sharing!”
- Actually listen. If your child is talking, pay attention! Put down your phone or whatever else is distracting you and focus on what they’re saying. Building their trust on fun questions like the ones below may help them feel safe enough to open up about bigger topics
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