You pull up to the curb in the car pickup line.
As your kids jump into the car, you smile, say hi, and ask, “How was school today?”
Your 10-year-old daughter visibly stiffens. “Fine,” she answers.
“Just fine?” you continue, “Did anything interesting happen?”
“Nope, just the typical day.”
And that’s where it stops.
Actually, that’s a pretty calm conversation. Sometimes you’re not so lucky because she answers with an eye-roll and a “nothing.”
You get mad. She gets mad.
Then she shuts herself in her room the moment she gets home.
You want to be closer to your daughter, but it seems like she is purposefully shutting you out.
(And yes, she is).
But it’s OK, there’s a way we can get a lot more information out of our daughters while showing them that we care when we employ this super easy tactic.
The mistake we’re making
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I am a stressed out, productivity-obsessed taskmaster at times – many of us are.
In my case, I equate success with having all my boxes checked off and everything done.
Since I want my daughter to be successful, I tend to find transactional conversations easier with with her.
- Is your homework done?
- Did you pack your lunch?
- Did you brush your teeth?
- Is your bed made?
Honestly, I’m not even aware I’m doing it at times.
In her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims suggests a different tactic when communicating with our kids.
One of the biggest changes we can make is instead of focusing on these little tasks – ask deeper questions.
We can do this with two words – How & Why.
The key to a great conversation is this
How and Why are excellent conversation extenders because they
- force a non-transactional answer.
- encourage more than a yes or no.
- let us exhibit interest in our kids lives without being too intrusive.
Here’s how it works. Say, your tween daughter has just come home and is sitting at the kitchen table doing homework.
Here is a typical conversation that probably goes nowhere:
You: How was your day today?
Tween: It was fine.
You: What was the best part?
Tween: There were no best parts.
You: There had to be a best part.
Tween: Nope, just a normal day.
You: How was recess?
You: Who did you hang out with?
Tween: I don’t want to talk about….
I don’t know about your line of questioning, but I am one of those moms who wants to know EVERYTHING.
Yes, I realize, it can seem like I’m giving her the third degree. But I’m desperate and I just want know what’s happening in her life.
Needless to say, it was backfiring.
What I did differently
First, I realized the environment makes a huge difference.
Face to face conversations never seem to work as well for me as conversations in the car or when I put her to bed each night.
Using the how and why questions, I tried again.
Me: What was an exciting part of your day today?
D: I don’t know.
Me: It’s important we recognize the good parts. It keeps us happy.
D: Ok, then I guess playing with my cousin.
Me: Why did you like that?
D: He was funny.
Me: How was he funny?
D: He kept stepping on the jump rope.
Me: Why do you think he did that?
D: I don’t know.
Me: Was there anything hard about today?
D: Ya, I didn’t like seeing my brother’s stitches taken out.
Me: Why didn’t you like that?
D: It was loud.
Me: Why don’t you like loud noises?
D: They scare me…
And the conversation went on… and oh my goodness, it was a good one.
Now I didn’t do this rapid-fire either. I took lots of pauses and breaths between each one. Tried to make them seem as natural as possible.
Honestly, I was trying to buy myself time as I tried to think how I could continue the conversation with a “how” or “why” question.
She opened up and not once did she get defensive.
With these type of questions, I showed her I wanted to know more about her life.
Parenting a tween can be rough
Lately, without realizing it, my conversations with my daughter have been more about how much I need to know and less about her.
I don’t mean to do it. My intentions are to help her and know what she’s dealing with.
With how and why questions, I can do this in a way where her answers guide the direction of our conversation, instead of me being a police investigator.
If you find your tween daughter clamming up
First, switch up the environment. Try talking in the car or at bedtime.
Then, lead the conversation with “how” and “why” questions. You will be surprised at how deep of conversation you can have.
As an added bonus, conversations like this strengthen her critical thinking skills because they encourage her to verbalize the reasons behind her emotions and why she reacts to certain events.
I can’t wait to hear how it works for you.