One night two years ago, I took my then eight-year-old son out to dinner, just us. After we ordered our meal, I asked my usual question, the one I ask every day: “How was school?” He answered me with his standard, one-word response – “Fine” – and then our table went quiet.
As I sat looking at my son, I wanted so much to know what was going on with him. I wasn’t sure he felt like talking but I decided to try anyway. I began asking him different questions, open-ended and unusual questions unrelated to the pattern of his day. I asked him what his earliest memory was. I asked him to pick his favorite word. I asked him if he had to be an animal rather than a boy, what animal would he be? And I was astounded by his reaction.
Talkative and animated, he opened up. He was full of imagination, opinions, likes and dislikes, fears and hopes. “Ask me another question,” he kept saying. I realized that he definitely felt like talking. All I had to do was ask questions he wanted to answer. That night, I learned that my son’s earliest memory is walking on a boat dock when he was a toddler and looking down at the water of Lake Tahoe between the planks. His favorite word is why. If he had to be an animal, he’d be a tiger.
“Why a tiger?” I had asked, expecting him to answer that tigers are ferocious and scary and powerful.
“Because I want to be like Hobbes,” he had answered. “From my comic book Calvin and Hobbes. He’s hilarious and fun and he’s such a loyal friend.”
His answers amazed me. I learned more about my son in that one evening than I had in a very long time.
When we got home, I thought about our conversation and knew that I wanted to remember all the remarkable things my son had said. I wanted to be able to look back, years from now, and remember how his mind worked at eight years old – what worried him, excited him, made him laugh. Hurriedly, I started scribbling down everything I could remember.
Talking that night had a real impact on both my son and me. My son kept up his “ask me another question” attitude, and I kept asking new questions. I started asking my five-year-old daughter questions and writing down her answers. Suddenly I realized that I had the beginnings of a book that every parent needs, a book of questions that helps you get to know one of the most important people you’ll ever meet: your child.
Here are ten of the 100 questions I came up for my book Get to Know Your Kid (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang 2011). I hope they help you get closer to your children, too.
- What is the hardest thing about being a kid? What is the best thing? Do you think it’s easier to be a child or an adult?
- What is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you? What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for somebody else?
- Do you think it’s easier to be a boy or a girl? Why?
- What’s your earliest memory? Tell me everything you can remember.
- Do you think in our family parents and kids spend too much time together, not enough time, or just the right amount? Do you have a favorite thing we do together as a family?
- What is your most prized possession? Where did you get it? Why is it so special? Would you ever sell it? For how much?
- When you think about everything in your life, what are you most thankful for?
- What do you think it takes for someone to be happy in life? What makes you happy?
- Do you remember your dreams? Can you tell me about one?
- If you could give one person one gift and not have to pay for it, who would would that person be and what gift would you choose?