“Television can be videotaped but children are best raised live and in person.” - Frank Sesno, Emmy award winning journalist and Dad of 3. Also known as "Mr. Breakfast" (to his kids at least!)
Will you go out with me? Will you marry me? Do you want to have kids? The questions we ask each other have the power to change the course of our lives forever. In this interview with Frank Sesno, an Emmy award winning journalist and author of Ask More, we draw upon Frank’s experience as a father and an expert questioner to figure out how we can use questions to communicate better with our children and, ultimately, be better parents.
In this interview, we discuss how to have a great dinner conversation with our children and why having good listening skills is critical to being a good parent. This is Part 1 of a series of articles from our interview.
DINNER WITH THE SESNOS
Recently, Frank’s son married. One of the hot roasting topics at the wedding? Dinner with the Sesnos. Sometimes, even Frank admits, the Sesno dinner table could be a bit interrogational. That said, the times (of which were the majority) where the questions did not go too far, but were asked harmoniously, the result was a magical experience at the dinner table where the family came together.
So what are Frank’s favorite questions to ask? He says:
What did you learn today?
With whom did you hang out?
What did you read?
What are you going to do tonight?
What are your friends doing?
What are your friends doing this summer?
In addition to asking the appropriate questions at the dinner table, there are other important elements for parents to employ in order to get that magical family dinner experience. Frank notes these elements:
LISTENING - HOW TO MASTER IT
Listening. Frank emphasizes that, in order to craft good questions, the act of listening is as important as the act of speaking. He says,
We should rename what we refer to as Q&A to Q&L.
I believe that if we are carefully listening to our children when we're talking to them, we're going to hear things: hesitation, insecurity, cockiness, bravado, dodging. That helps us be more sensitive to where they're coming from and what they're doing. Then, if we can be empathetic, we put ourselves in their position; we put ourselves in their shoes. Sometimes you can handle this with humor. Sometimes you handle it with sternness. If your objective is to get your child to talk, then that listening and that follow up question and how you pose it is enormously important.
Frank says that the biggest mistake we make when trying to listen to our children is that,
We don't listen. Honestly, the biggest mistake we make is we don't really listen. Listen doesn't mean we just hear the words. Listen also means that we hear what's around the words. It means we hear the body language, literally hear the body language. It means we watch facial expressions. This is what therapists do. This is what people who are really trying to connect with others do.
So, as parents, we will try to "really listen" to our children so we can truly "connect" with them. What else can we do to improve our listening skills and be better listeners of our children? Frank says,
Be outcome driven. So what do you want from this exchange? Do you want information? Do you want someone to open up? Do you want a closer relationship? Do you hope to bridge a divide? Once you answer that question, that helps you frame your questions and that helps you as a listener.
It is also very important that, as parents, we identify our strengths and weaknesses in listening. Frank continues,
Ask yourself what kind of listener you are. Are you an interrupter? Do you let your child finish? Are you a gap filler? If your child is searching for words, do you jump in and finished the sentence for her? Are you easily distracted? When you're in conversation, are you also doing your email? Are you someone who tunes into fact and data or are you listening for stories about people or just stories? What do you key into and to which do you really pay attention? Identifying your strengths and weaknesses has made me conduct meetings differently and talk to my grown daughter differently. When I really thought about it, I realized sometimes I project that I'm in too much of a rush and I cut her off. I need to let her speak even as an adult child because she still sees me as her Dad. If I'm interrupting, I'm not respecting her.
. . .