Engaging your kids in positive conversation

Nadine Bubeck

The first thing I ask my boys when I pick them up from school is: what did you do at recess? I ask it for a few reasons. One, because I believe forming social skills is super important and I like to know they’re getting along with other kids. And two, because it’s not an academic-heavy question; for the most part, talking about recess is a fun topic and I want them to focus on the happy part of their day.

Like many parenting books advise, never say: “how was your day,” because you’ll likely get a one-word answer. Instead, challenge yourself to ask engaging questions that provoke dialogue and gets them chatting.

Now that my boys are elementary-aged, I’m trying to be more conscious of how I pose questions and things I say to them on a regular basis. Why? Because I aim to set a strong foundation for effective communication.

Here’s a taste of my often-used questions and phrases to my kids. What would you add?

1. What song would you like to hear on your way to school? And yes, I’ll make it loud.

Because every day should start with a dance party.

2. Have a beautiful day.

I don’t like the word “good.” It’s mundane. I want their day to be beautiful.

3. Did you drink your water? Here’s another glass.

If only I made myself hydrate as much as I made them.

4. What were three favorite parts of your school day?

It’s a positive and downright better alternative to: “What did you do in school today?”

5. Who did you sit with at lunch?

I like to know who my kids are befriending, and I also want to make sure they didn’t “eat alone.” It’s a fear of any parent- worrying their kid is excluded.

6. What did you play during recess?

Swings? Sports? Superheroes? It’s an engaging question to ask young kids- and I love hearing about the creative games they come up with. (Lava tag is totally trending in second grade.)

7. Be kind to your brothers. They’re the best friends you’ll ever have.

“Kindness” is one of my favorite words. It’s much better than “nice.” When the boys get rowdy with one another, I try to positively remind them they are brothers and friends. (And the best ones they’ll have forever.)

8. Look me in the eye when we speak.

This is a biggy. Drives me crazy when their eyes wander especially during serious convos. Eye contact is a learned skill, and I’m adamant my boys perfect it.

9. Don’t get pee on the toilet.

I have three boys. Enough said.

10. Wash your hands. Now wash your hands again, longer, and with more soap.

...and for the record, I said this even BEFORE covid.

11. Please put your Legos/trains/etc away before taking out a new toy. And put them away correctly; do things right the first time.

In our house, every toy has a place.

12. Use your words.

…no hitting, kicking, etc.

13. I don’t like the word “sorry.” Go make it right.

To me, “sorry” is often meaningless and empty. Kids are trained to say it and overuse it, making “sorry” lack purpose. Instead, I encourage my kids to “make it right”- acknowledge and understand what they did- hug it out, etc.

14. You can tell me anything. I trust you; you can trust me.

I want my sons to know their words are safe with me always. I value their trust in me and want them to know I trust them as well.

15. You’re so handsome.

As a boy mom, I want to instill in them the importance of feeling good about themselves. We often shower our girls with “you’re so pretty,” and I think it’s equally important to make our boys feel the same.

16. I love it when you… (help me in the kitchen, clean up without me asking, etc).

I applaud behavior that makes me happy, and I try to vocalize it as much as I can.

17. ...and make sure to have fun!

This one pertains to sports. I try to omit over-competitiveness and reiterate at their young age; it’s about having fun (even though winning is always nice).

18. Even parents can get frustrated, hurt, and sad.

I lose it. A lot. And I hate myself every time I scream. But truth is, I can’t help it. I’m human. And my kids need to understand that.

19. There are two kinds of tears- happy tears and sad tears.

I want my children to know the difference between the two, and that for most of the time, they make me cry happy tears.

20. Stand your ground and use your strong voice.

The boys and I practice their “strong voice” quite often. Confidence is key, and that starts with using your voice.

21. You are creative.

I aim to fuel their creativity.

22. I love spending special time with you.

So important. Life gets busy, but I really try to spend individual time with my kids when I can.

23. I believe in you.

Probably the most important four words I tell my kids.

24. What books shall we read tonight?

I’m a book hoarder. While I’m exhausted and ready for me time nearly every night, I rarely surrender our reading ritual. It’s probably my most sacred time of the day.

25. Yes, I’ll kiss you 900 times.

Yes, I get this request every night. And yes, I know one day they’ll wipe my kisses. So, for now, 900 works for me.

26. Yes, I’ll sing you an extra song to sleep.

Because they’re the only people in the world who like my singing voice.

27. Your hand is my favorite hand to hold.

It’s so weird holding my 4-year old’s hand, my 6-year old’s hand, and my 8-year old’s hand because their hands are so different in size. Time goes by so fast… I’ll hold their little hands as much as I can.

28. I love you more than anything in the world.

It’s very, very true.

29. I am proud of you.

Everyone needs reassurance, and I’ll always be the one to give it to them.

30. You are my best boys.

Every night I say the same three things to my sons. I want it to be the last things they hear before they go to bed, and if I forget to tell them, they remind me:

I love you more than anything in the world.

I am proud of you.

And you are my best boys.

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Nadine Bubeck is a multi-media personality, fashion designer, mompreneur, author, blogger, keynote speaker, influencer and blessed boy mom times three. ​ The TV News anchor turned all things mama is a parenting, lifestyle, home and travel contributor on TV and writes for a handful of publications and websites. Follow Nadine: @mamaandmyboys on Instagram.

Scottsdale, AZ
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