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Want to Really Know Your Child? Ask these 10 questions

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.

  1. 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?
  2. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you? What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for somebody else?
  3. Do you think it’s easier to be a boy or a girl? Why?
  4. What’s your earliest memory? Tell me everything you can remember.
  5. 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?
  6. What is your most prized possession? Where did you get it? Why is it so special? Would you ever sell it? For how much?
  7. When you think about everything in your life, what are you most thankful for?
  8. What do you think it takes for someone to be happy in life? What makes you happy?
  9. Do you remember your dreams? Can you tell me about one?
  10. 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?
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