One of my favorite times to chat with my kids has always been after school. As an at-home mom, I loved connecting with my kids as soon as they got home. Later as a working mom, I tried to call within the first 10 minutes of their arrival home.
“How was your day?” was the first question I asked each of my five children over the span of 25 years of after school conversations. Most of the time I got “Fine” as an answer. Of course I would dig a little more and often ask, “What was the best thing about your day?” and “What was the worst thing about your day?” Usually I got a little bit more of an answer with those questions.
It wasn’t until my son’s senior year of high school that I learned a different way to ask after school questions. I was co-authoring the book No More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids for Who They Are with Dr. Kathy Koch. Dr. Koch is a master at drawing out the best in children and she always challenges me to think about parenting strategies from a slightly different angle than I usually do. Her encouragement was to ask questions about character in addition to asking questions about school activities, homework, etc.
Oh how I wish I would have known to ask some of these questions in my kids’ early years, but honestly it’s never too late to make small adjustments, and most of these are good questions for marriage conversations too! Even though I learned these late in the parenting game, we actually started using some of them around the dinner table and we still do today. They felt a little awkward at first, but now they are a normal part of our discussions.
With that in mind, I offer some slightly different after school questions you can use in your after school or dinner table discussions.
Who were you today? Were you a helper? An encourager? A giver-of-hope? Were you kind? Loving? Patient? Asking this question helps us all think about the impact we have on other people. It causes us to think about our character.
What two words best describe you today? Happy? Sad? Overwhelmed? Silly? Excited? Asking this question helps us take the emotional temperature of those we love. It asks the question, “how are you feeling?” without actually using those words. This is particularly helpful for a spouse or child who is more of a thinker than a feeler. It’s a gift to a spouse or a child who is a feeler, because you’re acquainting yourself with their feelings.
What are you most grateful for today? There’s a strong correlation between gratefulness, happiness, and contentment. If we want to grow grateful kids, we have to help them see what they have to be thankful for. In a culture that says “you need more,” any way we can already see what we have and be grateful for it will increase contentment and contribute to a general sense of happiness.
Who did you help today? We want our kids to contribute positively to the lives of others. We want them to recognize opportunities to make a difference. If you answer this question and share a story about helping someone at work, or in a parking lot, or in the neighborhood, you can serve as a role model for your kids.
If you could go back and do something over today, what would it be? Self-reflection is a valuable tool of maturity. It’s important for us to learn from our mistakes and when needed, do something different in the future. This is a good question for adults and children to think about.
Longing to take conversations in your family to a deeper level? It all starts with asking some great questions. Try one of these today!
What about you? Do you have any character strengthening questions to add to this list?