"I don't know."
"I don't remember."
Parents, caregivers and other adults in kids' orbits recognize those as the universal answer to, "So, what did you do at school today?" But that doesn't mean that all roads to getting kids to open up in conversations lead to similar dead ends.
"Almost all preschoolers and early elementary schoolers are able to recount every detail of what they have seen during the day, but it's very hard for them to start a narrative on a broad topic," says Pamela Li, M.S., a best-selling author and the founder and editor-in-chief of Parenting for Brain. "Details about their day are usually good starting questions, while a broad question like, 'What did you learn today?' is not."
She says that to get kids to talk, start with smaller, specific questions, and then use those as a stepping stone to broader, open-ended ones. A good example, she says, would be asking something like, "Did you raise your hand in class today?" Then you can follow up with something like,“Tell me more about that class and what you like or dislike about it.”
"Most children say 'I don't know' when asked the wrong question or when they don't want to talk," Li says. "When it happens, try asking a series of specific questions that elicit one-word answers. The key is to get them start talking and show your interest in what they do.
When you hit the right question, they will start elaborating on it. Then you can follow up with an open-ended question."
Of course, that involves having a series of open-ended questions at the ready for when the time is right. These are the best questions for kids to get them to open up once the conversation has started flowing. Whether you're looking to speak with your own kids about their days, or get to know a child on the periphery of your life a little better, use these once the ice has been broken.
Everyday Questions for Kids
When you're sitting around the table and trying to get a dinnertime conversation going, these might get them to open up about their days at school.
What was the best thing that happened to you today?
What was the worst thing that happened to you today?
What was your favorite thing you learned today?
Who did you talk to or play with today?
Did you raise your hand in school today? Were you called on?
What special classes did you have today? Did you have art, music, or gym? What did you do in those classes
What was the school lunch today?
Did anyone get in trouble today?
Did anything really funny happen today?
What was the hardest thing you had to do today? What was the easiest?
Did you do anything brave or kind today?
Did you read any books today? Did you like it?
Do you have any questions about anything that happened today?
What are you most grateful for today?
What's on the schedule for tomorrow?
Questions About Family
When everyone is assembled for big family holidays, ask these questions to get started talking about family history and their place in it.
When is your birthday? Do you share your birth month with any family members? Do you know your birthstone, birth flower or zodiac sign?
What does your name mean? Why was that name chosen for you? Does anyone else in the family share your name or middle name?
How many people are in your family? How many siblings? How many cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.?
Where did your parents grow up?
What do you think your parents do for work?
Do you know all your grandparents' names? Do you know where they were from?
Do you know how your parents met? How your grandparents met?
What's your favorite thing to do for fun on weekends? When they were your age, what were your parents' favorite thing to do for fun on weekends? What about your grandparents?
What languages do you speak in your family?
What's one thing that makes your family special?
Who in family do you look most like? Who do you act like?
Who is the oldest person in your family? Who is the youngest?
Who is the best artist in your family? The best musician? Cook? Who's the funniest?
If you could swap places with one person in your family, who would it be and why?
What's your favorite family tradition?
Questions About the Future
You can learn a lot about where they are now by asking them questions about how they see themselves the in future.
What's something you're looking forward to?
What goals do you have for the next year?
Where do you want to live when you grow up?
What does your dream house look like?
What do you want to do for a job when you grow up? What job would you want to do least?
What kind of car would you like to drive?
What skill or hobby would you most like to learn in the future?
If you could go anywhere in the world, what place would you most want to travel to? Why?
If you could sign up for one travel experience — like bungee jumping, skydiving, horseback riding, surfing, scuba diving, exploring ruins — what would it be?
Do you think you'll attend college? What kind of campus do you imagine you'll want?
Do you want to have kids? How many?
What are you looking forward to most about getting older?
How do you think your generation will change the world for the better?
What do you think will be most different about living in the future?
Is there anything that scares or worries you about the future?
Questions About the Past
Take a trip down memory lane with these fun questions about the past, both recent and distant.
What's the first thing you remember?
What's a memory that makes you happy?
What's the luckiest thing that's ever happened to you?
What's the best present you ever got?
What was the best trip you ever took?
What was the best birthday you ever had?
What's the last thing that made you laugh really hard?
What's your favorite age to be so far?
What's the strangest thing that's ever happened to you?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
How did you meet your best friend? What was your first impression of them?
Where is your favorite place in the world, and what's your happiest memory there?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
What's one mistake you wish you could go back and fix?
What's one thing you've done that you wish you can do again?
Questions About Favorites
Kids usually have answers to these at the ready — and be prepared for them to turn these right around and ask you.
What's your favorite book? Why?
What's your favorite TV show? Why?
What's your favorite movie? Why?
Who is your favorite character in any of the above? Why?
What's your favorite toy or game? Why?
What’s your favorite color?
What's your favorite number?
What's your favorite word?
What's your favorite sports team?
What's your favorite song right now?
What's your favorite breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Dessert? Candy or snack?
What's your favorite joke?
What does your favorite outfit look like?
What's your favorite subject in school?
What's your favorite holiday?
Questions to Get Their Imaginations Going
No question is too off-the-wall if it gets their brains into overdrive thinking of answers!
If you had a time machine, what time would you travel to? What would you do?
If you could make any invention in the world, what would you invent?
If you won a million dollars, what would you buy?
If you could change your name, what would you change it to? Why?
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If you were a parent, what new rules would you make for your family? Which ones would you ditch?
If you were principal of your school, what new rules would you make? Which ones would you ditch?
If you were president of the country, what new laws would you make? Which ones would you ditch?
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want to have with you?
If you could switch places with anyone for a day, who would you pick?
If you saw a shooting star, what would you wish for?
If you could be a celebrity, what would you want to be famous for?
If you could teleportation, where would you go? Why?
If you had to come up with a family crest and a motto, what would it be?
If you could live in any fictional world, which one would you choose? Why?
Funny and Silly Questions for Kids
You might not get a straight answer, but you will get a bunch of laughs!
If you could switch places with your pet for a day, what would your day be like?
If your stuffed animals could talk, what would they say?
If you woke up and there were suddenly no rules, what's the first thing you would do?
What is the silliest face you can make?
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What would life be like if you had eight arms like an octopus?
Can you wiggle your ears? Touch your tongue to your nose? Raise only one eyebrow?
If you were given permission to make the biggest mess ever, what would you do?
What's the weirdest noise you can make?
Which animal would you think has the smelliest farts?
What's your silliest talent?
If you could choose one of your toys to come to life, which one would you pick? Why?
What do you think goldfish think about all day?
What's the wackiest thing you cold put on a pizza that you would actually eat?
What sound do you think a giraffe should make?
"Would You Rather? Questions for Kids
These are always easy to break out when you're waiting in a line, in a doctor's office or at a restaurant, and they really pass the time.
Would you rather take a trip to a city or the beach?
Would you rather have the power to fly or the power to be invisible?
Would you rather explore the bottom of the ocean or the deepest reaches of outer space?
Would you rather be as small as a ladybug or as big as an elephant?
Would you rather have wings or a tail?
Would you rather have a pet cat or a pet dog?
Would you rather be able to wake up earlier or go to bed later?
Would you rather have a ghost in your attic or a monster under your bed?
Would you rather live someplace that's warm all the time or someplace where there's always snow on the ground?
Would you rather ride a horse or a motorcycle?
Would you rather have a pet dragon or a pet unicorn?
Would you rather be super lucky or super smart?
Would you rather time travel to the past to see dinosaurs, or to the future to see what's to come?
Would you rather have a house with a slide staircase or a house with a secret passageway?
If you had to give one up, would you rather give up screen time or give up candy?
Questions for Little Kids
Toddlers, preschoolers and even kindergarteners can get in on the fun with these easy questions.
What's your favorite animal?
What's your favorite thing to color?
What would your best day be like?
What do you like to do most when you go to a playground?
If you opened a store, what would you sell?
Would you rather be a superhero or a princess? Why?
What's your favorite thing to do outside?
What's your favorite thing to do inside?
What's your favorite room where you live? Why?
If you had a camera, what would you want to take pictures of?
What's something you're really good at?
What makes you smile or laugh?
If you had to name a pet cat, what name would you pick? What about dog? Bear? Dragon? Unicorn?
If you could learn any language, what would it be?
If you could play any instrument, what would it be?
Questions for Big Kids
Once they have a little more self-awareness, they can try tackling these bigger questions.
What's your best talent?
What's one thing you wish you were better at?
What's one thing that makes you unique?
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
Who is someone you look up to? Why?
What do you like to daydream about?
What's one thing I don't already know about you?
When was the last time you had to do something really hard? How did you do it?
When was the last time you went out of your way to be nice to someone? What did that feel like?
What worries you most?
Who knows you the best?
What's the wackiest dream you've had recently?
Who has been your favorite teacher so far? Why?
If you won $100, what would you buy? What if it were $500?
What makes you feel confident?
"As they grow, how we handle these conversations will determine whether they will still want to talk to us," Li says. "Good conversations are those that engage them with their interest so they feel heard and understood. Bad ones are those that interrogate, judge, lecture or dismiss, making them feel unheard. Conversations like these are also good opportunities to validate their feelings and coach them on coping with emotions."
And sometimes, kids don't want to talk at all. "If nothing works, you can start talking about something you experienced that day," Li adds. "Do this only if they're interested in listening. Otherwise, it may mean that they want some quiet time." And there's nothing wrong with that.
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