I make my living by asking questions. The best question I ever asked myself was ‘what kind of dad do I want to be?’. I asked it moments after I caught myself being an angry dad, and it kicked off an adventure into fatherhood — Being Dads.
Recently I was refining some of the questions I use in my work, which got me thinking about questions I use in my parenting. Over the years I’ve collected loads, tried most of them and stuck with the ones that work. I hope they’re helpful.
What’s going on in their world
This one came from Tom Farrand, an expert on getting different groups of people working together. No surprise then that he has a different approach to his relationship with his kids.
Tom will often ask his kids, at the weekend or during holidays, ‘What’s been your best thing today?’
They do it at the dinner table, taking food and telling their story in turns. Everyone asks questions of person telling their story like why was that your best thing? What was great about it? It’s really good because they come out with really interesting things.
A variation on Tom’s question is ‘Describe a moment when you were really happy?’
This one gives you an insight into their world. We were on holiday recently in the South of France. We’d done loads of great things. When I asked my youngest this question he said playing with my toys in pool with mum and dad. I wouldn’t have guessed that because the pool he was talking about was pretty plain compared to some of places we’d swam, and thinking back, just looking at him from the outside I couldn’t tell which moment made him happiest.
How was your day dear?
When you ask your kids about their days at nursery or school, the answer is often ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I’ve forgotten’. Asking general questions of anyone makes their job of answering harder. ‘How are things going?’ is THE worst question, because it’s meant to show that person cares about you and is interested in you. But actually it ends up making your life a bit harder because you’ve not got to search for a decent answer. That’s probably why it’s not exactly a conversation starter, with ‘busy’ now being the stock answer.
The point of you asking them a question about their day is to give you an insight into it, so pick something specific and ask about that. Make it easier for them to tell you what you want to know.
Here’s a few of my favourites -
What did you eat today at school? What made you laugh today? Who did you spend the most time with today?
With an answer to something you can go out from there — Who were you with? What did you do afterwards?
How they see you
Questions in this space are golden, truly golden because they see things that you just don’t. This little line of questioning came to me, not through an interview, something I read or observed, but from my kids.
When my four-year-old son asked me why I liked cleaning so much. Yes that really happened.
I was gobsmacked. I asked him why he thought that. He said ‘Because you’re always doing it’. Fuck.
I WAS always doing it. Just putting this away, sorting this out. I explained I was doing it because I liked my home to tidy. But that felt empty. I knew I was saying that for me, not him, because the real truth is I find it so bloody hard to switch off the ‘got to get things done’ mindset.
Now I check in on this and anything else I might be unwittingly doing by asking them two questions.
What’s it like having me as a dad?
What do you want me to do more of and less of?
If you want to be a better parent, getting feedback from your kids is a bloody obvious thing to do, but one that we do very little. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because we equate our age with wisdom, and don’t think we need their feedback. Maybe it’s because we were never asked these kind of questions by our dads, so we’ve never thought of it before. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy. The answer to this one doesn’t really matter, the answers to the ones above on the other hand do.
If any of that was useful, I send out a weekly email of brainfood for fatherhood. It goes out on friday to a few hundred dads to set them up for the weekend. Subscribe here.