We’re not going to lie. These steps aren’t so easy. But, with practice, you can get better.
Does this sound familiar?
You: “How was your day?”
Your child: “Fine.”
You sit there wondering why you can’t get more out of your child. You might even complain to your wife, “See! She just won’t open up and talk to me!”
Here’s the deal: It’s not your kids’ fault. It’s yours. Your question is lame. You deserve the answer “Fine”. You need to learn how to ask better questions.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.“ —Matthew 16:13-17
Dads answer Manhood Journey’s question, “What’s the biggest challenge facing you as a dad?” all the time with struggles of communication, finding common ground, and having meaningful conversations. We hear things like:
- “Connecting with my son about more than just video games.”
- “Effective communication in a world of texts, tweets, and snapchats.”
- “I can’t get my son to listen or talk to me or anyone.”
The vast majority of dads who say their kids won’t open up to them are usually the dads who need to learn how to ask better questions
What if you could remember a six-step framework to help you learn how to ask better questions? Think about sharing a meal together. I lay this framework out fully in my Field Guide Breaking Barriers. I’ll give you a sample size here. Pun intended.
How to ask better questions > Step 1: Set the table
Whether you need to discuss a serious issue with your child, or you just want to find out what’s going on inside their head, here are three questions to help you think through the setup for your dinner talk:
1. Is the timing right?
Timing is everything in your conversations with our kids. If either of you are stressed out, tired or otherwise preoccupied, the chances of having a significant discussion plummet. Other bad times include when an issue hasn’t fully played out.
2. Is there anything that needs to be addressed first?
Sometimes the conversation you want to have is not the one you need to have. There may be something that’s gone unaddressed for way too long, and lingers like fog between you and your child.
Question: What’s one thing you’ve done to “set the table” with your child?
How to ask better questions > Step 2: Serve appetizers
When you eat an appetizer, it’s not enough to fill you up; it’s just enough to whet your appetite for the main course. An easy way to head toward your more serious topic is to prepare the palate with easy-to-answer questions. Even though the answers you’ll get are short, and might even come across as grunts, that’s okay.
Try out some of these openers:
- “Are you okay if we talk for a few minutes?”
- “Was today a good day? What was your favorite part? The worst part?”
- “What are you doing tomorrow/this weekend?”
- “What’s your favorite class/subject/song these days?”
These questions will help get them talking and direct their attention to you. When you sense the emotional intimacy inching forward, congrats, you’re breaking barriers. Now, it’s time to move the conversation to the next level.
Question: Which question(s) should you ask your child to “serve appetizers” this evening?
How to ask better questions > Step 3: Dish out meat & potatoes
You’ve been itching to broach a subject with your son or daughter, and the time has come. You’ve eased into the conversation and are ready to get on with it.
The next step is simple: Ask open-ended questions—the kind that require longer answers.
- “Got anything you’ve been struggling with lately with friends, school or siblings?”
- “How are you doing with your homework?” (Or with preparation for the test, the game, and so on.)
- “Any thoughts on [_insert current event here_]?”
While these queries tend to pull out meatier responses, you want to quickly head toward your desired destination. But just like the best dinners, you’re not done when the main course is over.
Question: Which questions should you ask your child to “dish out the meat and potatoes” this evening?
How to ask better questions > Step 4: Scoop dessert
It feels unnatural to abruptly end a conversation without a wind-down. If you two share some intense and/or emotional moments, you may feel a need to reestablish normalcy or safety, or simply to reaffirm your love for them.
During this dessert phase, the main idea is to speak words of encouragement. Look for character traits to praise, such as honesty or perseverance.
Proverbs 16:24 says: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
Proverbs 16:21 says: “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.”
Question: What dessert do you need to scoop out this evening?
How to ask better questions > Step 5: Clean up
After dessert comes the part most kids try to skip out on: the clean-up. But it’s the only way you can prepare the kitchen and table for the next meal. The same is true for your next talk. If you tidy things up and leave your child anticipating a positive experience next time, you’ll find it easier to engage them when a new issue requires some wrangling. Maybe they’ll even seek you out for a conversation!
Sample questions to help you get there:
- “Did you like having this talk?”
- “Is there anything else I should’ve asked?”
- “What do you want to do this weekend?”
Question: What’s one way you’ll “clean up” this evening in conversation with your child?
How to ask better questions > Bonus Step #6: Take inventory
Ask yourself a few questions:
- What did I learn?
- What will I do differently the next time we have a talk like that?
- What part went really well?
- What was the result?
That last question may not present a simple answer right away. Results can take time. Not to mention, they can be negative. If things go sour with your child, don’t lose hope. Try again, when the timing is right. Go back through the process and alter your technique based on what you learned.
We all need practice communicating with our children. Sometimes we do well, sometimes our bad mood or tiredness cause havoc and require a conversation do-over. Keep talking and keep listening.
Free Cheatsheet > Busy Dads Guide to Compelling Conversation [PDF Download]
Here’s the deal: maybe you’ve made it more difficult than it is. Let’s get back to basics. Let’s stop making it difficult and JUST ASK QUESTIONS.
Use these five (5) simple questions to get started. Here’s what you can expect from this download:
- Five (5) quick-win questions you can ask your child right now
- Support from us dads here at Manhood Journey and our community
- Access to additional resources and tools for helping you be a godly dad.
Grab the Busy Dad’s Cheatsheet now and start asking the five quick-win questions.
How to ask better questions: the mission
Mission 1: Download the Busy Dad Cheatsheet and walk through the five quick-win questions this week. Pick one evening and run through all five questions. Or, ask one question each day. Your call. Let us know how it goes.
Mission 2: This weekend, find time with each of your kids to ask a question like this: “What’s an area that God’s gifted you in?” “What’s one thing you’d love to achieve in your life?” “Where’s one place you’d like to visit?” Just try and find some passion, desire, or goal in their hearts. You don’t need to solve some problem, just learn to dig to find the nuggets.
Mission 3: Become a member of Father On Purpose. We’re always giving away free resources. This week, we give members a resource called 9 Questions that are Better than “How was your day?” Not ready to become a member? Fine! Would you share this week’s video snippet on facebook?
Additional resources for how to ask better questions
Listening vs. talking: How to listen openly to your child
Raising godly children requires these five things
The art of asking great questions
6 strategies for more meaningful talks with your child
Breaking Barriers Field Guide: How to Pull Your Child Closer by Asking Smarter Questions
YouVersion Bible reading plan: Becoming a Connected Father [8-day plan]
If you want to learn the most about how to ask better questions, check out The Connected Father.