I’ve been asking my daughter the wrong questions
If I want better answers from my daughter, I need to ask her better questions
I’m sure I’m not the first Dad to be frustrated by the bland responses I get when asking my daughter—Eloise, five-years-old—about her day:
‘How was school today, Eloise?’
‘What did you do?’
‘Really? You sat on your chair all day doing nothing?’
‘What did you learn?’
‘Who did you play with?’
Now though there is some mild exaggeration in the above scenario, there’s not actually much. I’ve had conversations similar to this on more occasions than I care to remember. She’s being deliberately silly with me, of course, and I do sometimes manage to extract a few small extra details out of her, but not many if I’m honest.
I do think it’s important to have the conversation though, even if it feels pointless much of the time. I want to be a Dad who is interested and involved in my two daughters’ lives; I want them to know that I care and am always ready to listen. But it really does often feel like I’m wasting my time.
Last week though I came across a brilliant article by Glennon Melton entitled, ‘The Questions That Will Save Your Relationships’. It’s well worth a read. It got me to realise that when I ask Eloise, ‘How was your day?’, it’s much too big of a question. So much happens in a day; so much more than could ever be drawn out by one all encompassing question. As Glennon put it so well:
If we don’t want throwaway answers, we can’t ask throwaway questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.
After reading the article I tried this whole asking better questions approach. I kept it simple, just asking Eloise two specific questions before bed: ‘What made you the most happy at school today?’ and ‘Was there anything that made you feel sad today?’
Amazingly, it worked! Eloise immediately told me how seeing her friend Ethan had made her really happy. (She hadn’t seen him for a while after being off school sick.) And then, when I asked her if anything had made her sad, she told me how another of her friends—who I won’t name!—had laughed at her and shouted at her.
I was staggered really. I’ve hardly ever got that kind of information or insight from Eloise’s day before. By simply asking more specific and meaningful questions Eloise opened up in a whole new way, giving me a much better picture of at least some of the feelings Eloise had experienced in her day.
It would seem that it isn’t so much that Eloise doesn’t want to talk about her day — rather it’s that I haven’t been asking the right questions to help her communicate about it. And that’s something I intend to change.