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5 Ways To Get Your Child To Tell You More

communication learning

5 ways to get your child to tell you more

Recently, I read Frank Sesno's "Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change".  Many of the tactics can be applied to dialogue with our children too.  Here are five ways we can use questions to get our children to tell us more about their lives and also teach our children in a more effective way. 


1. Use Echo Questions

"Echo questions enable me to use the other person’s own words for emphasis and as a follow-up question. I add inflection to suit the mood—sympathy, surprise, and humor. Henry says, “The way they treated me just made me want to scream.” You ask your echo question. “Scream?” Rita says, “I don’t know why I even try anymore." - Frank Sesno in Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change

Dr. Thomas Gordon calls it "Active Listening" In his Effective Parenting method.  

Basically it is repeating your child's words, reflecting back what she said.  

When we do this, we signal that:

(1) we are listening
(2) we are paying attention and
(3) we are interested in what she is saying.  

Also, it often leads to teachable moments that effective and are compassionate, affectionate and memorable for your child.

Example 1

Mom: Did you like the fireworks last night?
Child: They were loud.
Mom: Yes, they were loud.
Child: Are fireworks always that loud?
Mom: Hmmm... fireworks are not always that loud.  They were abnormally loud last night.
Child: Where are they not as loud?
Mom: Hmmm... where are they not as loud?
Child: Disney World does not have them very loud!
Mom: That's right Disney!  They are so nice there.
Child: Yes, they are. I like fireworks there.
[child is no longer terrified of fireworks due to echo questions and reflective listening]

Example 2

From Frank Sesno's Ask More:

"Your six-year-old comes home from school with a note from the teacher saying your child swiped a banana from a classmate at lunch. You ask what happened. “The lunch room was really noisy and Katie was being mean. So I took her banana.” Echo question: “You took it?” “Yes, I took it. But I didn’t steal it, I just took it. She was saying bad things about me and I didn’t like it.” Life is simple at six. Now you have a teachable moment. You can explain that we don’t “take” things from other people’s lunch trays, even if we’re annoyed at them."

2. Periodic Encouragement

In Frank Sesno's Ask More, he discusses how interrogators get their subjects to talk more.  The same works with children.  Sesno writes of an interrogator, Barry: 

"When he hears something relevant or that he wants to learn more about, he signals his interest in almost imperceptible movements, gestures, or sounds. He might lean forward and offer a slight nod or a barely audible “uh-huh.” These micro-affirmations reinforce without interrupting or distracting. They signal that Barry is engaged and sympathetic." 

When your child is talking, try =>

  • say "uh huh" periodically
  • Nod
  • Smile
  • React with a gesture

The goal with periodic encouragement is to make it subtle, not too big that it disrupts your child's words.  

3. Offer Rewards

Back to the interrogator. Sesno writes,  'As the conversation unwinds, Barry also offers “rewards”.

This works with children too.  These rewards are sayings or actions that applaud the content of what your child is speaking. 

Try these "rewards":

    4. Use "Tell Me More"

    Franks Sesno writes,

    "Tell me more. Explain that to me. These “questions without question marks” turn a question into a request. Saying “tell me more” sends a signal of acknowledgment and validation because you have, in essence, accepted the predicate of what that person just said. You want to learn more."

    Therapists often use this technique to get clients to literally "tell them more".  It works with children too.  

    When your child starts talking about an incident that you would like to engage in a conversation, try simply saying "tell me more".  

    5.  Reinforce What Your Child Is Saying

    Frank Sesno writes of reinforcing questions:

    This technique requires empathy.  As a parent and a listener, we need to try to see the situation from our child's perspective and ask a question about the reason behind an action instead of the action itself.

    Have other ways to encourage your child to talk more to you? Leave it in the blog comments or email  

    Happy talking!

    Allie, Mom of 3 

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