How to get more than a yes or no answer when asking children questions about their day

Can you relate to this when asking children questions about how they went at school and the only answers you get are short one word responses or no response at all?

How often have you asked the following questions to your child and have been frustrated with their response?

How was school today?  – ” Fine” or “okay” or “not good”

What do you do? – “nothing”

This is a topic that often comes up when conducting workshops so I want to share with you the following tips on asking children questions and getting better responses.

Asking children questions

As a parent I know I have often asked these same questions to my own children.  When your child is younger it isn’t too bad as you generally kept abreast of what was going on at primary school anyway.  However when your child start’s secondary school, and the communication from the school is usually less, it would be great to know more about what is happening in their daily lives.

Don’t despair it may be that you are just not asking the right questions, or not asking them at the right time, which then allows your child to give you the one word responses they give.IMAGE of a family eating dinner around the dining table asking children questions

Here are a couple of tips that you might want to consider when asking children questions:

  • Ask open-ended questions which will allow you to keep the conversation going longer rather than questions that can be answered by one word responses.
  • Children don’t often realise the type of answer you are wanting so it is a good idea to make sure you ask specific questions.
  • Try and ask positive questions which will give your child a chance to express concerns where as asking negative questions it might stop the conversation quicker.

Questions you might like to ask (apply to children of all ages)

Below are a few suggestions on questions you might like to try but feel free to alter so they are applicable to you, your children and circumstances:

  1. Tell me about the best thing that happened at school today.
  2. What was the best thing you learnt today?
  3. Was there something really interesting that you learnt?  I’d love to hear about it.
  4. What was challenging about your day? Why did you find it challenging?
  5. Did a classmate or friend have anything fun or interesting to say?
  6. What was the best thing your teacher asked you to do  in ____ today?
  7. What game did you play at recess/lunch?  Who played with you?
  8. Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.  Did you seek any assistance?
  9. Was there anytime today that someone wasn’t very nice to you?
  10. Were there any moments today when you were proud of yourself and something you did?
  11. What did you learn about yourself today?
  12. Is there anything that you are worried about?
  13. What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?
  14. Is there a question you’d like me to ask you about your day?

Give it a go

Why not give some of these questions a go when your child comes home from school today?

Before you do it might be an idea though to consider picking just one or two rather than starting to ask all of these at once.   Your child, particularly older children, will really start to wonder why the change and become suspicious about why you are now asking so many questions!  If it goes well, then next time why not throw in a couple of different ones.

If you want to encourage this to become an ongoing part of your communication with your child it is important that when they actually do talk and answer your question that you make sure you listen.  Teenagers in particular are vary wary of parents cutting in and not letting them speak.

Personally I usually find I have the most useful conversations, and get the best answers, when they are having an afternoon snack, in the car on the way to after school sport or at the dinner table.  These sort of questions are pretty much routine in our household these days and not only my way of taking an interest but also allowing me to find out more about what is happening in the day to day lives of my children.

It would be great to hear if your communication improves as a result of altering what you ask your child about their day – please let me know – amanda@organisingstudents.com.au

It is never too early (or late) to teach children organising skills

Children really are like little sponges from an early age and we need to start teaching them to pick up after themselves and be organised or they will never learn.  It really is up to us as parents to begin facilitating this and it is never too early or late to start! 

If you teach them from a young age, it will not only free up your time, but allow them to gain important life skills and it will assist them with self confidence by feeling capable of being able to do things themselves.quote on not doing things for your children but letting them learn by doing - teach children organising skills

Here are 8 tips to assist you to teach children organising skills:

  1. Developing and following routines – this is one thing that helps children right from an early age begin to learn the foundations of basic organisational and time management skills.  In the beginning it does require a bit of work from us as parents and in particular ensuring everything has a place to live and letting children know where things go.For younger children it can be useful to begin verbalising or making charts with the steps of a particular routine such as morning or evenings.  The clearer you make it for your children and develop regular routines the easier it usually is for everyone.Another example of this is to have toys and things in containers that are labeled or for younger children they could have pictures rather than words to assist them to know where things live.  When children are young and they ask you to find something it can be useful to remind them that they know where they live as that is why we put things back away so you can find them easily next time.
  2. Understanding what it means to be organised – children like to understand why it is important to be organised, how it helps to make life easier and why it can save time.  Be honest with them and naturally give them explanations that are age appropriate so they can understand.  Explain that getting organised isn’t always fun or quick but that it helps in the long run.For younger children you can keep it simple by teaching them things like stacking, matching, wiping, sweeping which are all developmental skills and often they won’t even realize or know that they are learning organising or cleaning up skills.
  3. Leading by example – One of the very first steps as a parent, in teaching your children organising skills, is to ensure you are leading by example.  We have all heard the term ‘monkey see monkey do’ and it really is true.It is really important that you create an environment that reflects organisation.  For instance you could have a family calendar in a central location that everyone, children included, put their information on.  It is also good to ensure that everything has a specific place to live so it is easier for you and your children to find.  It also encourages children to put things back and keeps the place more organised and with less clutter.Remember if you are expecting them to clean up their toys you also need to make sure you don’t leave your own clutter lying around either.Many mothers often get in touch as they are worried they might be passing on bad habits or skills to their children so they get me involved to assist in breaking the cycle, teaching them organisational and time management skills that they can then pass on to the rest of their families.
  4. Don’t just assume they understand what you mean – often we expect our children to know what we are trying to get them to do.  In most cases though they need to be shown first, and possibly several times before they are able to begin doing something themselves.  Usually I suggest you show the child and then be there providing support as they do it themselves a few times and then eventually they will get the hang of it and you no longer necessarily need to be involved in the process.As an example you can show children that when they play with something it needs to go away before the next thing comes out.  You can also involve them in picking up their toys and putting them away at the end of playtime or at the end of the day.  You can start teaching this at a very young and continue on as children get children.  If you struggle with getting your children to do this then a strategy could be to give toys or things time out so they soon get the picture.
  5. Give and teach them strategies – you can teach and use the simple 1-2-3 method to break down most tasks:

    Getting organised or ready – this is teaching your children where they need to be and that they have everything with them they need to complete a task.
    Staying focused/doing the task – this means teaching them they need to stay focused in order to complete the task at hand and learning to say ‘no’ to distractions along the way – this becomes an even more important skill as children get older with completing homework and technology.
    Getting it done/finishing the task – finally this involves teaching a child to complete a task and then checking it has all been finished or done.

    Once children understand this basic method they can then start tackling more tasks independently.

    Try these for simple tasks where you can use this method – brushing ones teeth, packing up a room, emptying the dishwasher or for older children completing their homework.

  6. Asking them for their help – this is another way of empowering children at a young age to help you and to learn organising skills.  Why not ask them how they might go about doing something and give them the opportunity to have a go.  Remember that this is a good way for children to learn and where you can support them rather than doing it for them.An example of a task could be asking them to do something like help you to fold and put the washing way – for younger children you could start by giving them socks to put away and then increasing this to folding them and other items like undies and continuing to progress with other items as they get older until they can do it all themselves.
  7. Making things fun – sometimes making things fun can be a good strategy to adopt in teaching organising skills without children even realising.  For instance at a young age you can make something like packing up toys or getting ready for school into a game of ‘beat the buzzer or the time’.
  8. Please don’t just do it for them – this doesn’t help anyone and if anything creates more work for us as parents.Sometimes we need to reinforce something with our children to ensure a task gets done and I encourage you to do this even though it can be tempting and easier to just do ourselves.  If we continue to pick up after our children then they never actually learn.  An example of this is that I have for some time been getting my children to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and if they leave it on the bench or near the sink, I ask them to come and do it rather than just doing it for them.  Another one is that I no longer pick up their dirty washing in their rooms and that it is their responsibility to put it in the wash or they run the risk of running out of an item or something they need to wear.

If you are still not sure on what you can do for what age group – a simple way to look at it is:

Age 2-4 – keep it simple and very easy without too many steps

Age 5-8 – get creative, give them a challenge and start teaching responsibility

Age 9+ – up the responsibility, give them choices to make and let them establish their own routines  

If you get children involved and start by making some of these things fun from an early age and they won’t even know they are decluttering and organising.  Remember these new skills won’t develop over night and might take time but it really will be worth it in the long run!

If you feel you need assistance to teach children organising skills please get in touch – I regularly work with children of all agesamanda@organisingyou.com.au

6 tips on dealing with toy clutter in your home

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to storing or organising children’s toys in your home.  You have to do what works for you, your family and the space you have. It’s about finding the balance between keeping the toys accessible for the children to play with but organised and out of the way when needed.

Many of my clients, particularly those with younger children, often struggle in what to do with toys and where they should live in the house.  Often they tend to end up settling in the central living space as that is where you are and where the children, particularly younger ones, want to be.

toysAs children get older you generally find they are happier to play with and store their toys in another area away from the central living space and in a toy room.

Where ever your children play with or store their toys it is important to keep on top their organisation and not just shut the door to the room so you can’t see what is inside at the end of the day.

Here are 6 tips to assist you in dealing with toy clutter in your home:

  1. Get children to help you put them away – Often it is easier to just spend 5 minutes at the end of the day putting away the toys yourself but my advice is to begin teaching your children from young age to help you.  Investing in this time early on by involving them in the process will teach them responsibility and organisation skills that will assist them in life.  For younger children you could make it into a fun time with a game by setting a timer and giving them small tasks to complete.Don’t necessarily pick up after each time they play with their toys as you would be doing this all the time.  Try though by taking a few minutes at the end of each day and doing this on a regular basis so that it doesn’t become too big a chore and overwhelm you and the family.
  1. Try and establish a one activity at a time routine – ”you can play with the cars after you put the puzzles back in their home”.  Encourage children to put away an activity or set of toys when they are done playing before they start the next activity.  This isn’t always going to work but it is worth spending time implementing when children understand the concept.  Children often follow similar routines at daycare, kindergarten or school so it is won’t be foreign to them.
  1. Store toys – ‘like with like’ or ‘same with same’ and make toys easily accessible – where possible it is better to keep toys of a similar nature together rather than having in one large toy box.  Generally large toy boxes don’t work very well as toys get mixed up in one big mess, things get lost and often you find children will just tip out all of the contents anyway to find what they are looking for.My advice is to use smaller easier to handle carry containers for storing similar items together.  Often clear tubs can work with picture labels for younger children. It is useful for example keep together all the toy cars, or dolls clothes, or blocks, or lego and so on.  If you have book shelves or even the cubed bookshelves you can use containers in these to keep toys of a similar nature together.Dress ups are usually great if you can keep them all together in one place and where children can easily get them out as well as put them away.
  1. Rotate toys on a regular basis – as children seem to have quite a lot of toys these days a rotation system can assist with keeping clutter at bay.  Where possible store the surplus toys in containers in a shed or even in a cupboard.  This will assist with storage issues in your living space and create new experience for your children when you rotate them around.
  1. Keeping some toys out of reach – by this I mean keeping those toys that require greater assistance, like art & craft or complex puzzles, in a less accessible space.  This won’t suit all of you as I know for some families like to have their children access all varieties of activities at all times where as others like to control the use of these things.  You need to find what works best for you and your family.
  1. Regularly sort through toys – it is a good idea to periodically go through your children’s toys to see what items might need:

* repairing

* cleaning

* throwing out

* donating or handing on as they are no longer used or age appropriate.

A good time to go through this process might be prior to a birthday or before Christmas.  Depending upon the age of your child you might like to involve them in the decision making process too.  If you are donating items ask around in your local community as often kindergartens, schools, medical rooms, or children’s hospitals will be very grateful to receive toys that are in reasonable and workable condition.

Finally let me leave you with a final thought if I may – I remember the days when we had toys everywhere in our living space and I often thought this is never going to end.  Well it does and my advice is to try and enjoy this period of time in your life as before you know it they will be older and no longer want to play with toys.

Please use these tips to assist you with staying on top of toy clutter so the toys don’t control your house but you control them!

Published in Kids Magazine – Issue 21 – April 2015