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Manners Monday: Ask Better Questions

This is just one of many Manners Monday posts to come about the art of conversation. Texting and technology in general has taken us further away from actually communicating with each other. We don’t talk like we used to. We need to make time to have meaningful conversations and teach our kids how to have them as well. One of the most important elements of having an awesome conversation, aside from making eye contact, is asking awesome questions. I’m talking about questions that reflect more deeply on what you’re talking about and inspire interesting answers.  Answers that take the other person a minute or more to respond to. Simple yes and no questions just don’t cut it. I think that Einstein said it best when he said,” If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.”

I’m not saying that people don’t like to talk. People LOVE to talk about themselves on and on and on without considering or engaging the listener. It’s as if they’re just posting on Facebook or Twitter. It’s so easy to say, “How was your day?” or “Are you hungry?” but when’s the last time you got to dig deeper and get into a truly mind-opening and challenging conversation? I’m talking about philosophizing with, connecting to and learning from each other. This week’s lesson is a big one for the future of mankind. We have got to get ourselves and our kids engaging in conversations so that they can solve the next generation of problems for our planet.

This Week’s Rule:

Ask Better Questions

Put it Into Practice:

Here’s how us grown-ups should model asking better questions for our kids:

  • Ask questions that require more than “yes”, “no” or single word responses.
  • Ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.
  • If you’re stumped, lead with one of the basic question words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How
  • Try to be succinct with your answers when someone asks you a question and end your answer with an open-ended question for him/her/them.
  • Ask questions as you’re talking and give the people you’re talking to time to answer before continuing. If the subject shifts a little bit, go with it. It could lead to connections, information and ideas that you never considered before. You can always circle back around after you exhaust the new angle.
  • If you can’t think of another question on the same subject, ask whoever you’re talking with what other thoughts they have on the subject.

Toddlers 1 – 3 years old:

Model good questions and responses when you have your family mealtime. Like I said in last week’s teaching your kids to sit up straight post, the dinner table is a powerful platform for practicing and instilling good manners of all sorts into your children. Toddlers love questions. You can start by asking them a simple question like these below. After they answer the question, say “that is/was so interesting (or other descriptive word). Then, encourage them to ask you the same question while making eye contact. Encourage them to listen to your response. This will not go perfectly. But, as you practice, it will get easier. Eventually, you can start off by saying, “Why don’t you start the conversation today/tonight?”

  • Tell me all about something that happened today. 
  • How do you feel today? What is making you feel that way?
  • What would you like to do tomorrow?
  • Green or Blue? Why?

Kids 3 – 9 years old:

Continue modeling the right way to ask questions between you and your spouse or when friends and family are over. But, your kids are old enough that you can also practice and model with them directly, now. Ask them questions at dinner or when you pick them up from school or wherever. Another good time is bed time. They’re usually pretty relaxed and a little chat while they get situated in bed can be nice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that you don’t know the answer to. That’s what makes for good conversation. Be ready to explore possibilities. See how long you can talk about one subject. How many new questions can you come up with on the same topic before you HAVE to change it. Make sure to also discuss the finer points of asking good questions listed above. At 9 years old, they should get it. At 3, they might look at you like you’re crazy. You know your kids better than I do so stick with the Toddler directions until you feel like they get the basics. Then ease into the bigger picture.

I’m a big fan of Table Topics Family Edition or Melissa & Doug’s Family Dinner Box of Questions as starting points for conversations with kids. So, if you’re stumped for questions you should check em out. But here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Why are there so many stars in the sky? How long do you think stars live? What do you think life on other planets looks like? 
  • Why are dried grapes called raisins? Do you like grapes or raisins better?Why? 
  • What would you do if we had a pet dinosaur? What would it be like to take care of it? What kind of name do you give a dinosaur? Why don’t dinosaurs live on Earth now? Why do things go extinct? 
  • Do you think that money or love makes people happier?  Why? Can you count how many times hugs have made you feel better? Why do hugs feel so good? 

manners-monday teaching-conversation

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