Communicating with our kids: getting more than one word answers

How do you get more than one word answers from your kids? How do you get them to engage in a conversation rather than respond with a grunt, mumble or an “I dunno”

How do you continue to communicate with your children when the developmental advances, the changing brains and the influx of hormones renders the art of conversation somewhat distracted? Once again communicating with our kids when they are little is something we are more inclined to do well. We talk and interact constantly with our baby and toddler as we feed them, dress them, carry them, read to them and sing songs with them. But as they make their way through the primary school years and beyond and they gradually develop this independence, sometimes the communication needs to happen on a more conscious level.

Of course the ‘one word answer’ is not the case for all kids and certainly those parents that have been through “the grunting teen” have rejoiced in the return of their talkative kids once through this stage of development. But in the meantime, it is important to use whatever time you have to talk to your kids, to connect on a regular basis and to set up the foundations for a feeling of security for your kids, safe in the knowledge that there is always someone around to listen to the little things as well as the big things.

One such conversation is the “after school/end of the day conversation” where we as parents often try in vain to milk any little snippet of information to give us any indication of the daily happenings, and hence the daily happiness of our offspring. This was brought to my attention recently as we are temporarily having to drive to school and hence now have this opportunity  to discuss the day.  As a result, I have had to get a little more creative in the questions I ask in order to illicit a response worth listening to!

For myself  and for many families, the conversation can often  go something like this:

Parent: “How was your day?”

Child: Any one of the following: “good”, “Bad”, “OK”, “Alright”, “Fine”

Parent: “What did you do?

Child: Any of the following: “I dunno”, “Nothing much”, “can’t remember”

So in order to challenge this I changed my tact to such questions as:

  • What was the best thing that happened to you today?
  • What was the worst thing?
  • What did you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday?
  • Was there something you did really well today?
  • Was there something you’d do differently?

Now of course you can still get the one word answer, but being more specific with our questioning certainly does ensure that they are more likely to think about their response and offer up something that gives us much greater insight, enables a conversation to naturally flow and and ultimately ensures greater communication and connection.

Do you stuggle to get conversation from your kids? Do you have any other ways to combat the ‘one word answer’?

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. My eldest is seven and still happily recounts her day at school in minute detail…..I can’t imagine it changing but I guess it might. The questions you offered are great conversation starters though, even for my minions!

    1. That’s cute! I still have moments of hearing every detail from them at different times and also times when all 3 want to tell me a story at the same time.

  2. I use the ” What did you do today?’ often and it gets me nowhere. So, direct open-ended questions are better, good thinking! I’ll be using these!

    1. Thanks Penny, and I guess they too get bored with the same questions just as we get bored with the same answers.

  3. I found the key to communication was to talk to them about things they were interested in. Ie Computer Games, Tv programmes, Achievements, Hobbies, Music.
    I focused on them. Got involved with the things they liked and generally had interesting (to them) things to talk about.
    I have spent many an evening watching TV that I was so not interested in, but it gave me a link to them. Knowing what they were talking about when they did speak to me.
    I have a little knowledge in the computer game that they were playing and joined in.
    This was the biggest key that supported me and them while they were going through the interesting times of teenage years.
    We gain trust for each other and now hold very good, open conversations. They even ask me how I’m doing and what i’m up to.
    I still use the technique now even though they are big. 17 and 19.
    I suppose in clear terms. Being part of your child/rens life whether I was interested or not really worked for us.
    I am still learning. For some reason they change the games they like and the music they listen to.
    However I know the difference between Halo and Red Alert. Family Guy and King of the Hill. I know what geocacheing is and how to light a fire in the rain. (Scouting). To be honest I struggle with the music but they find that funny.
    Enjoy what they can add to your life. Its amazing.

    1. Wow, that’s fantastic and wonderful advice which you are obviously reaping the benefits from. Does that mean I have to get to know the differences between John Cena and The Wizz (or is that the Miz )! But you are right, getting involved in the things that interest them is so important. I go to the footy each week with 2 of my boys so it is always something we never struggle to talk about:)

      1. Glad to help. Yep it does mean you have to find out what they are into and talk their language. However it is ok not to get it quite right as they like to inform you. ie. Pokemon was a favourite in our house for along time and if I dare go into their bedroom I will still find cards. I found one little fellow that I could talk about. ‘Snorlax’ a sleepy fellow that liked to sleep. So when they asked me my favourite I could answer them with conviction.
        I am also a keep football fan of the team they support. When I first started I was not that interested, but now I find myself knowing where the team is in the league and who scored the goal. Might think this is sad but its so cool when we get together at the end of a Saturday chatting about the results and the goal differences. Its amazing what you learn. (Not just about football)

  4. Great article – will take it on board.

  5. What a fab post 🙂 I find it helps too if you know the names of their friends and ask the questions with their names in. Nx

    1. Thanks Nathalie, great idea too x

  6. I make up stuff. My son will grunt, but will always defend himself.

    “Who was that cute girl I saw you with?”
    “What, where?”
    “Down town.”
    “I wasn’t downtown, I was at Jimmys playing b-ball.”
    Now I have some imformation to start a real conversation.

    The Cranky Old Man

    1. Love that! Very clever and will certainly give it a go 🙂

  7. We like to share our funniest moment of the day at the dinner table. It has us in stitches sometimes, so much so it should come with a health warning as we can often choke on our food. The things our 4 year old comes up with are hilarious, and even funnier is watching him laugh so much that he sometimes cant even get the story out. 🙂

  8. I’m still working on trying to get more than a “Well…” from my 3 year old! Seems to be his answer to almost any question.

    I love the suggestion of asking more specific questions. I use it all the time with my 8 year old. I figured out real fast asking his day was elicited a one word response. But the deeper questions usually leave him thinking a minute or two about is answer (which can be almost as frustrating).

    I also like Theresa’s suggestion of learning what they are into. Too often, parents ignore what interests their kids — or worse, try to force their own interest on the kids (which sometimes bores the hell out of the younger ones). By learning what your children are interested in, you allow them to be who they want to be and are able to guide them to the resources that will ultimately help them reach their goals.

    Thanks for sharing a great post!

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