I Tried These Conversation Starters With My Kids—And It Changed Everything

I Tried These Conversation Starters With My Kids—And It Changed Everything

I will never forget how his eyes lit up. All year, I'd been asking my preschooler the same default question: "How was your day?" Only to be met with a quick, "Good!" before squirming out of my hug in search of Legos and snacks. But this particular day, I tried a different strategy. "Did you make anyone laugh today?" I asked. He stopped squirming, looked directly into my eyes, and said with such conviction, "YES!" before diving into a detailed story, complete with silly faces and all the things that make a 5-year-old giggle uncontrollably.

In that moment, I realized my son had plenty to tell me—I'd simply been asking the wrong questions. And so, I set off to become a collector of questions and conversation starters for families that actually get kids talking.

family conversation starters with kids
Image by Teal Thomsen

In truth, my revelation changed more than just the way I talk to my kids (see also: the ever-popular marriage meeting). "How was your day?" is such a broad, monotonous question that, hardly ever elicits meaningful conversation whether you're five or fifty. It's stories that drive us—stories that spark core memories and bring a certain color and richness to our lives. And stories begin by asking the right questions.

But it doesn't stop there.

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How do you have a good conversation with family?

Even with the best conversation starters in your toolbox, there are a few more things to consider when it comes to engaging kids (and parents, for that matter).

First, Consider timing

I used to host a regular "snack and share" around the table after school and that worked well—for a time. But as schedules change and my kids get older, they're more interested in playing, eating, watching a TV show, and eating again than they are sitting down for a chat with an adult. These days, dinnertime works better for us. Every family will be different, but know that if your child is hungry or tired, no one will appreciate a forced family moment.

When your child opens a window for conversation, you never know how long it will stay open. Take the opportunity.

conversation starters for kids
Image by Michelle Nash

Second, look for the windows

Occasionally in parenting, there will be a window of opportunity to talk—really talk—to your kids. But here's the kicker. This moment most often comes when you least expect it, or when you're busy, or when you're not paying attention. OR when you're child is almost asleep and mentally, you're already on the couch with a celebratory drink. The key is to immediately do the opposite: stop what you're doing and pay attention. When your child opens a window for conversation, you never know how long it will stay open. Take the opportunity. This builds a bond of trust and connection—and shows your child you're always available when they need you.

family conversation starter ideas
Image by Matthew Chatburn

Finally, consider the setting

If your kids have a hard time opening up or getting into a conversational flow, change it up. Perhaps your dinner table is more chaotic than calm. In that case, it's probably not the best place to introduce a new family ritual. If the right question is a seed, then your setting is the soil—it should be a place where conversation can grow.

conversation starters on the way to school
Image by Emma Bassill

Try throwing out a few conversation starters while you're going for a walk or bike ride. Driving in a car is the perfect place to ask fun questions, especially when there's a snack stash handy. When you get out in nature or go for a drive, it provides something else to focus on which tends to magically open the avenues for free-flowing dialogue.

Now that you have the tools, let's dive into the questions.

Questions to Ask Kids After School

Try these questions when your kid gets settled in the car, when you get home (or after you wrap up homeschool), or even later at dinner. Mix 'em up or, if your child responds well to a particular question, make it part of your post-school ritual.

If the right question is a seed, then your setting is the soil—it should be a place where conversation can grow.

Image by Michelle Nash

Family Dinner Questions

Use these dinner conversation starters as a jumping-off point. You can take turns answering a single question around the table or give everyone a new question. There's no need to rush from one to the next—the goal is simply communication. Remember to practice active listening, stay curious, and have fun.

Image by Michelle Nash

Conversation Starters For Teens

We were all there once, so are teenagers such a mystery? When it comes to conversation, look for the windows and give them a gentle nudge when they crack open. Call out the good stuff, validate emotions, and help them navigate any problems or issues—but don't do it for them. Simple, right?  

dinner conversation starters for families
Image by Kristen Kilpatrick

Fun Conversation Starters for Families

Stuck in a car for a long time? These fun questions and would-you-rathers are road trip gold. My recommendation: drive as far as the first gas station, let everyone choose one snack, then kick off the trip with a question before pulling out the screens.

Image by Michelle Nash

Getting To Know You Questions

Finally, these questions are good to have in your pocket for any occasion. Try them when you're FaceTime-ing with out-of-town relatives or on a Saturday morning donut run. There's always something new to discover, even about your own child—and vice versa.

Final Thoughts (And How to Get Started)

Hosting meaningful conversations with your family doesn't need to be some big overhaul in your routine. My favorite way to start anything at all is to begin with a small seed of change. Small is sustainable. So, what does that look like? Choose one question on the way to school. Give yourself three minutes to connect. Pick one day of the week for a family walk and talk. After all, the thing about seeds? They tend to grow.

(PS: Listening, reflecting, and seven more ways to encourage confidence in your kids.)