The Ultimate List of Questions to Ask Kids To Get Them Talking, Connecting, and Sharing
If you’re a parent, a caregiver, or simply an adult with young children in your life, chances are you’ve had some one-sided conversations.
Some little ones are prone to sharing, talking a blue streak about their latest favorite toy or favorite subject, and others need a lot of coaxing. Others shift between the two, sharing at inopportune moments and clamming up the next.
When it comes to older kids, it can feel as though the moment you show any interest, they’d rather pop on their headphones and tune you out. As a former preschool teacher and a parent myself, I’ve experimented to find what works to get kids talking–and what definitely doesn’t.
The good news is there are some foolproof ways to get kids talking, whether they’re toddlers playing with stuffed animals or pre-teens. Try the techniques below to get the conversation flowing with your kiddo.
Why do we need to ask our kids questions?
There are plenty of reasons to ask questions and get your kid talking. Children actually benefit from this quite a lot.
Showing an interest in childrens’ lives shows them that they matter, they’re worth your time, and their thoughts, feelings, and opinions are important. In fact, a 2018 MIT study found that conversation between an adult and a child actually changes a child’s brain.
According to the study, parents can have considerable influence over their children’s language and brain development by simply engaging them in conversation. Interestingly, it was back-and-forth conversation, not vocabulary-drilling that led to the jumps in cognitive development.
This could be anything from asking them about how many stars they think there are in the universe, what their favorite dessert or favorite song is, or what kind of famous person they would like to meet most. As long as you appear genuinely interested and choose the right conversation starters, you’re good to go!
The study “provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children,” says John Gabrieli, professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study. “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
On top of the science, there are plenty of other reasons to chat up your kids, whether you’re on a walk or at the dinner table with your younger children. The benefits include:
- Increasing in self-esteem
- Encouraging self-reflection
- Affirming their emotional selves
- Boosting their social skills
- Encouraging critical thinking
- Fostering perspective-taking
- Teaching listening skills
- Building empathy
- Developing trust, intimacy, and connection
When it comes down to it, my number one motive for getting my kid to talk is to connect with him. I want my kiddo to feel seen, heard, and understood, as I would a good friend. I want him to have the skills to express himself, ask for what he needs, and clearly communicate his boundaries.
On top of that, I want my little guy to learn how to listen to different perspectives, consider opinions that aren’t his own, and to imagine what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes.
By opening the door to meaningful conversation, I’m showing my son that he matters to me, that even as his mother I can learn from what he has to share, and that I care deeply about him as a human being.
In addition, the skills he gains in sharing conversation with me will help him develop into a caring, empathetic adult. Kids mimic their parents – so why not set a great example? #momgoals
How to get kids talking
I know from personal experience that wanting to talk to your kid and getting your kid to talk are two very different things.
The reality is, kids aren’t dumb. They can tell when you’re asking gratuitous, forced questions and, even worse, when you aren’t interested in hearing the answer.
If a kid senses that you’re trying to engage in the obligatory “family talk,” it’s not the craziest thing to imagine that they’re likely to shut down real quick.
From my trials and errors, I’ve come up with a pretty solid method to get kids talking, no matter what stage of life they’re in.
- asking open-ended questions
- getting in their world
- active, receptive listening
- reflecting their message back to them
- validating their viewpoint
- putting them in the driver’s seat
Unless you’re playing a game like “Mother May I,” yes or no questions can end a conversation in a heartbeat. But when you ask a child open-ended questions, you’re giving them a whole world of conversation to explore.
The same goes for one-word answer questions, though you may need to ask a few of those to determine what topic will spark the child’s interest. A question like, “How was school today?” is most likely going to be met with one of three options: good, bad, or OK.
Instead, try an open-ended question like, “What was the weirdest thing that happened to you today?” The fact that this question is a little unexpected just might pique their interest.
Get in their world
Getting in a child’s world means you’re making an attempt to see things through their eyes. This shows your child that their experiences matter.
For instance, when your kid comes home from school, what they learned in math class is probably the last thing they want to talk about. To be fair, you probably don’t want to be asked what you learned from your crabby customers or Zoom meetings when you end your workday either.
Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and engage them in ways they want to be engaged. Chances are your kids are constantly giving you clues about what interests them, what lights them up, and what gets their juices flowing.
If your kid loves dinosaurs, ask them to imagine which dinosaurs might have lived on your continent in the past. If they like ballet, ask them what they think it would be like to dance on a stage in front of an audience. If they love stories, ask them what their favorite movie is, or about their favorite storybook character.
Once you find the topic that sparks their imagination, all you have to do is roll with it. A child’s curiosity often does the rest.
Instead of constantly looking for opportunities to insert your own opinions and force “teaching moments,” try actively listening to your kids instead.
Active listening involves:
- making eye contact
- positioning your body in a receptive posture
- showing signs of understanding, like nodding
- asking clarifying questions
- ignoring distractions
Making eye contact is a clear way to show that you’re listening. While you don’t have to intensely stare, kids know intuitively that your attention often follows what you’re looking at.
Body language matters.
When you sit with arms crossed or your chest turned away from your kiddo, it indicates that you aren’t receptive to what they’re saying. Instead, try keeping your arms at your sides or resting on the lap, and keep your chest–aka your heart–pointing toward them.
Pointing your body toward your kiddo while they share shows them that you’re listening with all of you, and helps keep a child’s mind open. Your child might even be familiar with this practice as “whole body listening,” something teachers often ask for in the classroom.
Nodding as your kiddo tells you a story about their day shows that you’re understanding what they’re saying. Offering nonverbal affirmations like “hmms” and “ahhs” can help too.
To take it further, asking clarifying questions shows that you’re not just “nodding along.” Instead, you’re showing that you care enough to make the effort to really “get it” even if you don’t understand at first.
Quite possibly one of the most important signs of active listening is ignoring distractions. Put the phone on silent, turn off the TV, and give your kiddo your full attention. Of all the things in the world, that’s what most kids want the most.
Reflect the message
Once you get the full picture from talking with your child, mirror it back to them. It’s important to distinguish mirroring from parroting. Parroting can feel like you’re mindlessly repeating what your kiddo just said, while mirroring shows a more in-depth understanding.
For instance, parroting might sound like: “Math class was hard today.” Mirroring might sound like: “Wow, it sounds like you were putting in a lot of effort, but the assignment was still tough.” Mirroring involves interpreting in your own words not just what’s being communicated verbally, but what’s being communicated emotionally.
Validating their viewpoints
Once you’ve shown that you understand both the content and the emotional message behind it, you’re showing your child that you get why what they’re sharing is important to them.
Were they discouraged by a tough assignment? Were they excited to make a fun art project? Were they disappointed when they didn’t get picked for sports?
Understanding the emotional impact of what’s being communicated and then mirroring that back to your child shows them that they’re understood, that their feelings matter, and that they can bounce back if things are tough.
Putting them in the driver’s seat
Finally, let your kids take the wheel for a while.
Kids are so used to adults driving conversations, moralizing, scolding, chastising, or instructing. It can be totally novel for an adult to just listen and go with it, whether your kid is talking about pirates, fairies, or a video game that makes zero sense to you.
Let them lead the way, and simply hold space for them to take the conversation wherever they feel inspired to go. This is a sure-fire way to help your child feel heard, get them initially excited, and develop confidence in their ability to communicate with others.
Get to know you questions for kids
When it comes to getting to know you questions, it doesn’t matter if it’s your own child or a brand new face. The number one rule is: don’t stick to the script!
Kids love spontaneity and authenticity. They also love it when adults don’t take themselves too seriously. Lead with these and you’re sure to get them talking.
For preschool kids
Preschool kids do best with a bit more structure. Instead of totally open-ended questions, give them choices for guidance. They also love funny questions that will make them giggle and make you look a bit silly.
Here are some examples:
- How do you think I got here today? Did I ride a magic carpet, an elephant, or the bus?
- Can you guess if I live in a castle, a haunted house, or an igloo?
- Would you rather be able to fly, be invisible, or breathe underwater?
- If you had to eat one thing forever, would you rather eat chocolate, bread, or blueberries?
- If you could turn into an animal, would you rather be a dog, a horse, or a snake?
For school-age kids
School-age kids still enjoy a bit of silliness, but they also enjoy thoughtful questions. They’re also typically able to deal with ambiguity and don’t like being boxed in.
Try the questions below:
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
- If you could prevent one animal from going extinct, which would it be? Why?
- If you could be President for a day, how would you change the world?
- Would you rather live in a house full of cute animals or live in a treehouse all by yourself?
- If you got to be a grown up for a day, would you rather drive a car or use a credit card?
For tweens and teens
This is where you may have to get a bit creative. Tweens and teens don’t want to be treated like littles, and they definitely don’t want to be talked down to.
Show them you respect their intelligence and emerging sense of awareness about the world by asking meaningful questions on topics that matter to them.
Tweens and teens often appreciate relationship questions, questions about current events, and even school-related questions if they’re asked in the right way.
- Why do you think music is so important? What do you think life would be like without it?
- Do you think your school does a good job of educating kids? How could they do better?
- Why do you think popularity is so important to your peers? Do you think it really matters?
- Would you rather be a star on a sports team or get good grades? Why?
- If you could opt out of going to school, would you rather stay home all day or go on an adventure?
Science questions for kids
Has your kiddo ever asked you why the sky is blue? Now’s your chance to turn the tables and get them thinking with some science questions.
This can often lead to some fun experiments too. Try questions like:
- If you roll one marble from a two-foot high cardboard ramp, and another from a three-foot high ramp, and both ramps are the same length, which marble do you think will go farther?
- If you add water to cornstarch, what do you think will happen? (hint: it makes oobleck!)
- How far away is Pluto in miles? What about inches?
- Why does the earth rotate? How fast does it go?
- If you walked across the entire United States, how long would it take you?
- What’s the difference between a lunar and solar eclipse?
- Do you think it’s possible for the strongest person in the world to lift a car?
Fun questions for older kids
Like I mentioned above, older kids can be trickier to get talking, especially if they’re trying to play it cool.
At the same time, many grown ups are surprised at how eager young adults are to engage in thoughtful, meaningful talks about topics that really matter to them.
The best way to do that is to hone in on what that is. Fun questions for kids doesn’t always mean silly questions. Sometimes, what’s most fun for them is getting to focus on what they really care about. In reality, these are the kind of questions to ask people of all ages if you really want to get to know them.
For instance, my kiddo loves video games. Although I’m somewhat video game ignorant, I make a concerted effort to pick up on the jargon that would otherwise go over my head.
That way, I can ask my kiddo:
- Do you want to play a tank or a mage today?
- Have you made any builds out of redstone lately? What was it?
- Wow, that character looks so OP! How are you going to beat it?
While it’s likely that didn’t make any sense to you, learning some of the vocabulary of my child’s preferred activities opens up a whole new world to me that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
The most important thing about that? It’s his world, and that’s somewhere I want to be.
The ins and outs of conversing with your kids
While it can sometimes seem like an uphill battle, having meaningful, connective chats with the kids in your life can happen.
With a bit of forethought, active listening, and an effort to see things from their perspective, kids will see and appreciate that you really care what they have to say.
Once they know that their opinions are heard and their feelings are respected, your kiddo will likely become an open book.
Once the floodgates of conversation are open, there are literally no limits to the ways you can connect and engage with your kids, and it all starts with a simple question.