“How’d your day go?” I asked as he climbed into the car over the mountain of chaos and toys strewn through our backseat. There was no time for eye contact, the steady gaze of the pick-up line attendant nearly glaring at me with each passing second it took me to pull out of the lot.
A grunt and a groan was all I got for a response to my question, the depth of my curiosity met by equal parts apathy and irritation on his part. I’m never quite sure how to play the after-school-question time. I want to know everything. He wants to tell nothing. So it’s a dance, one in which I have my own agenda but I try to let him lead.
Truly, we’re horrible at the dance!
What I want more than anything is to know my kids, and for them to know me as a soft place to land. But when I force it (and, oh! How I’ve tried!), it backfires on everyone, and we wind up being more disconnected than when I started.
I’ve experimented with various approaches–asking specific questions, asking unexpected questions, asking no questions and waiting for him to take the lead. Eventually, I came to realize that the time immediately after school is not the best time to get information from Gabe. I’m curious and excited and eager, but he’s tired and agitated and needs a chance to let his hair down. So I’ve resorted to asking the very basic, “How was your day,” mostly as a greeting, with no expectations, and I try to give him a little space.
I’ve had to let go of how I thought it should work and find a way to make it work for real. The answer lay a little bit in having the right time and the right routine. The right time for us? Dinner. We typically eat dinner around the table as a family and have several conversation starters through which we rotate. Usually, it’s sharing highs and lows, but we also have several boxes of premade discussion questions.
Our car ride to school and bedtime are other times for built-in connection, albeit not as consistently. On our ride to school, we can sometimes be found sharing gratitudes or things we appreciate about each other (we do this especially when we’ve had a bad morning), and bedtime, with Gabe and Isla’s penchant to stall, is a wonderful time for open-ended talking.
Our connection times are pretty common–before school, before bed, and at meals. Yours could be entirely different. Maybe your kids are talkative after school, or perhaps you snuggle in bed in the morning before the day fully starts. Maybe you have a weekly family meeting or you and your child like to grocery shop together. Then, think about the kinds of conversations you want to have and what type of questions and routines you could incorporate to build the habit.
I was going to create a printable with collection of conversation starters, but the more I looked around online, the more I realized they’re already out there! Why reinvent the wheel, right? So here are three of my favorite collections–creative conversations starters to help foster connection with your kiddos.
If you try out any, let me know how you enjoy them!