Building confidence and self-esteem in your kids will give them a solid foundation they will benefit from for a lifetime. One way to do this is by asking them questions and listening earnestly to their answers. Let them know you truly value their opinion and what they have to say matters. I teach child sexual abuse prevention to parents and one of the methods I believe is the strongest to predict, prevent or catch child sexual abuse is to use conversation starters before and after you drop off your kids anywhere they will be in the care of others. This includes family members, pre-school, daycare, neighbors, school, and sports because 90 percent of abuse is at the hand of someone they know and trust. Of that 90 percent, 30 percent of the perpetrators are family members, 60 percent are perpetrators are people the family knows.
Asking your kid point blank if they have been touched inappropriately is confusing, scares kids, and can cause emotional harm. Using conversation starters is an effective method to build a bond with your kids. Their answers will shed light on any issues they may be struggling with such as bullying, eating disorders, anxiety, or homework. Their answers will also highlight all the positive interactions in your kid’s life. You may learn what their new interests are, what are they excelling at, what is motivating them, who their new friends are, or who is their favorite teacher.
Have you ever been frustrated when you asked your kid how their day was and the answer you got in return was “good”, “fine”, or “it sucked”? Asking kids how their day was can be confusing to them because they can experience a range of different feelings throughout the day. They may have hated P.E. but loved art. They could have made a new friend and failed a test. Their excitement and emotions can ebb and flow throughout the day.
The key to getting your kids to open up is to ask open-ended questions and then wait for their answer. If they are quiet just allow the quietness to hang in the air. One of two things will happen, they will either speak to fill the void or they will remain quiet but possibly reflecting on your question. Wait awhile and try a question about a completely different subject. If they don’t answer that question, tell them you respect that they might not feel like it right now and that you are there for them whenever they do feel like talking and leave it at that. Overwhelming them with too many questions will make shut down or assume they are in trouble. Pick new questions daily and rotate them over the month instead of asking the same questions every day.
Here are conversation starters to help parents get more insightful answers from their kids:
What are you most looking forward to today at school/camp/sport? Why?
Who are your favorite people at (name of location)? Why?
Who are your least favorite people at (name of location)? Why?
Which activities do you enjoy most at (name of location)? Why?
Which activities do you not like at (name of location)? Why?
If you were in charge today what would you do differently? Why?
What was your favorite part of today? Why?
What was the worst part of today? Why?
What/who made you laugh today? Why?
What was the nicest thing someone did for you today?
What was the nicest thing you did for someone today?
What class was your favorite today? Why?
Who did you eat lunch with?
Who did you play with at recess?
What is the most popular thing to do at recess?
Who is your favorite team mate? Why?
When were you the happiest today? Why?
When were you bored today? Why?
Did you need help with anything today? Why?
What interesting thing did you learn today? Who taught you?
Were there any questions you were afraid or embarrassed to ask?
What do you think you should do/learn more of at school? Why?
What do you think you should do/learn less of at school? Why?
What is your teacher’s/coach’s number one rule?
Does anyone have a hard time following the rules?
Did anyone push your buttons today? Why?
If you could change one thing about today what would it be?
I hope these examples will inspire you to come up with more questions that fit your kid and their situation. Notice that I added “Why?” to most of the questions. Asking “why” will keep the conversation flowing, help you dig deeper, and keep them talking longer. Listening and accepting their answers without diminishing their responses will help to build trust so they feel safe when they need to tell you something you might not want to hear.