Engaging Your Kids in Conversation with Thoughtful Questions

Thoughtful Questions

Thanks to several friends of The Playroom Lubbock, a recent blog post circulated around which you may have noticed: The Key Jar by the Momastery blog. You can find it here: http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

This prompted me to share so many great ideas to engage your kids in conversation without the worn out "How was your day" question. Our kids learn and feel engaged in different ways: some are more verbal and love to use their words, others love using their whole bodies, some like to be analytical, and some like to be dramatic or silly. Hopefully you can adapt some of these ideas to work well for you and your child or to work well for at home, in the car, or tucked away in your purse.

Before I unlock these ideas, let's dive into some great points Momastery had in their blog post.


Glennon also writes, "Thoughtful questions are the keys we use to do the unlocking and safekeeping." I would like to add that quality time and play in an emotionally safe environment can also greatly contribute to unlocking a child's world. It's almost time to unlock some of these ideas, but secondly, let's talk about how to "safekeep" your child's answers to these questions in order to promote a nonjudgmental and encouraging conversation.


1. Reflect or paraphrase their answer

2. Leave out your opinion. It could come across judgemental or that you are evaluating their response as right/wrong.

3. Verbalize the feeling you sense from your child. "You're feeling ______about that."

4. Ask how you can help

5. Ask what your child would like to do next to accomplish ______

6. Reassure your child that you are available to any of their questions/concerns

7. Refrain from giving advice unless your child specifically asks.

8. Show your attention by using eye contact and freeing your hands.

9. Be considerate of your child's vulnerability in sharing something personal. It may not be something to share with siblings, friends, or social media.

10 Ways to engage your kids in conversation


1. TableTopics is a cube of conversation cards that can be purchased for around $25. They come in sets for family, couples, teens, etc. Decide upon a time your child can draw a card. This would be great for in the car or stash a few in your purse.

2. Head over to Momastery and print the Key Jar questions for free. http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

3. Buy a game of Jenga just for a conversation game. Use a sharpie marker to write down questions. Set up the Jenga game in a safe place and each day your child can find the challenge of drawing a Jenga block from the tower and answering the question. (From http://somethingtotalkaboutslp.blogspot.com/2012/01/conversation-jenga.html?m=1

4. Use a beach ball or other large plastic ball and a sharpie to write questions. Toss the ball and wherever your child's thumb or index finger lands, that is the question to answer. Great for kids who like to be active or use their bodies. (from http://morethanelementary.blogspot.com/2011/08/getting-to-know-you-activity-with-beach.html?m=1


5. Use a jigsaw puzzle to write questions on the back. Your child can flip a piece over each day to answer.

6. Use play mustaches (found for $1 at Dollar Tree) and the free printable "I Mustache You a Question Conversation Starters" from teacherspayteachers.com. This gives kids a dramatic or silly approach to answering more serious questions.

7. Use a wand or a sword to answer questions. This gives kids a sense of power to be able to wave a wand or sword in conversation. (from http://heidibritz.com/2015/04/29/every-slp-needs-a-magic-wand/

8. Use puzzle floor mats and papers with questions. This can be a hop scotch type game, bean bag toss game, or musical squares. Where ever the child lands or the bean bag lands, he answers that question. Great for active kids!

9. Head over to iMom for some printable conversation starters you can cut out and keep in a jar, diaper wipes, container, or something your child can decorate and "take ownership." http://www.imom.com/printable_categories/conversation-starters/

10. Use puppets! You can pick up puppets at the Dollar Tree. Use some printable questions and your child can pick up a puppet to help answer their question. Helps children with risk taking of being honest and vulnerable.

We hope you enjoy adapting these ideas to fit your child's personality and needs. Feel free to comment with your own ideas or share these with others. 

Let Children Color Their Perception of Therapy

You've made the first step and made an appointment with a child/adolescent counselor. You may have showed up a little apprehensively to the initial intake appointment with the counselor/therapist. After you realize the counselor wants to support your efforts as a parent (you are, after all, the primary influence over your child's life) and the counselor "hears you out," it occurs to you that you have to think of a way to tell your child he/she is going to therapy. In fact, let's just cut out the word "therapy." Add "fix your problems," "bad feelings," "disobeying" to the list of What Not to Say. "Ideally, it is best if the child is allowed to develop their own impressions of the therapist and what therapy is all about from actual experiences in the playroom" (Killough McGuire, D. and McGuire, D, 2001. Linking Parents to Play Therapy. NC: Taylor and Francis). We hope our name, The Playroom, provides a sense of comfort and familiarity for your child so that he feels safe and free to form his own impressions.


So How do You say It?

McGuire and McGuire in their book Linking Parents to Play Therapy suggest parents tell their child (depending on developmental level) something like this: "This is a time for you to play in a room full of toys and things you like to do with someone who really cares about you" (p. 16). As necessary, the therapist can also provide further information to the child. Another way to phrase this for an older child would be:

It’s a safe place to find support and an unbiased adult to listen.
— Kate Leyva, LMFT Contributing to Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids About Therapy That Aren't Helpful. Psych Central.com

Communicate with Feeling Words

When your child comes out of a session reflect his/her emotion. "You're really excited coming out of there." "You seem to feel quiet." "You're feeling ready to go!" You can also respond with a feeling to any questions they may have: "You're curious that_____." "You're wondering if ______."

Communicating about their Art/Creations

At times your child may bring home something he/she created. It is important to view their creation from their therapy session as a page out of a journal. It can be very private and emotional. Be mindful that your child may choose not to talk about it. If your child is eager to show you (and quite honestly you may have no idea what you are looking at), you can say "Tell me more about that." You can focus on details of what he or she did: "You put those colors right there." "Looks like you spent a lot of time on that." "You drew this here and that over there." Or if a child asks you if you like it, you can respond with, "What's important is if you like it. What do you think about it?"

Communicate with Nonverbals

Dr. Kay Sudekum Trotter, PhD, LPC-S, suggests that when you stay in the waiting room instead of running errands during a session, you nonverbally communicate that "you're so important to me that I will be here the whole time supporting you." (Tartakovsky, M. (2015) Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com)

Communicate Privately with the Therapist

It is important to be mindful of little listening ears. Talking about your child's progress or lack there of, or more specifically the problems you want to see addressed, in front of the child, may lead to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and shame.

What NOT to Communicate:

The following list of common comments that parents make may isolate your child or negatively color their perception of therapy or the therapist.

The therapist is going to help you with your problems. You need help”
”We can’t help you anymore because your problems are too big.”
”We have to go to therapy because your dad or mom left us.”
”You need to go to therapy because since the divorce you have been really emotional and difficult to deal with.”
”Your therapist is going to be so disappointed in you for doing___”
Speaking to therapist: “Maybe you can help _____with learning how to better control his emotions when he doesn’t get his way.
— Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com


In Conclusion

Parents are very well meaning in their communication with kids. Hopefully these suggestions provide another perspective about how your words can and should encourage your child and therapeutic play.