Teach your child kindness by asking the right questions

Photo by iStock.
Utilize time in the car or around the dinner table to ask your child questions about kindness. Photo by iStock.

At school pickups and dinner tables across the country, parents are asking: “How was school today?” “How did you do on your test?” “How was practice?” Many times, the answers are less than informative.

Getting your kids to open up about their day can be like pulling teeth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right “tools,” time spent in the car or around the dinner table can not only be a great time to connect and learn about their world, but also a great opportunity to emphasize the importance of kindness and helping others.

The best way to get your children to share information and actively participate in a conversation is to ask the right questions in the right way. The more specific your question, the more specific and detailed the answer can be. Rather than “How was your day?” ask “What did you learn about in science class?” Ask specific questions about your child’s daily school routine and schedule.

Although questions about homework, grades and test scores are important, it’s equally important to ask your child questions about how he or she treats others.  In a 2014 survey by psychologist Richard Weissbourd — co-director of the Making Caring Common Project at the  Harvard Graduate School of Education — 10,000 middle- and high-school students were asked to rank what they think is most important to their parents: their achievement, their happiness or caring for others. More than 80 percent chose achievement and happiness over caring for others.

Students also were three times more likely to agree with the statement: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”  This may be because parents focus conversations with their children primarily on school performance. By regularly asking questions related to kindness, you’ll reinforce the idea that kindness and helping others is just as important as academic performance.

Families Giving Back has developed a set of Kindness Conversation Starters that you can use when you’re in the car on the way home from school, to or from after-school activities, at the dinner table or whenever you have a few free moments with the kids.  These questions not only will help your children share information about their day, they’ll help them understand the importance of being kind and how they can act with kindness each day.

You can print out the Kindness Conversation Starter card sheets at familiesgivingback.org. Encourage your kids to read and answer them. When they do, it’s important to really listen, so be sure turn off the car stereo and any devices that might be a distraction.

Kindness Conservation Starter questions:

• Did anyone help you at school today?  If so, who and what did they help you with?
• Did you help anyone at school today?  If so, what did you help with?  If not, what is something that you could have done to help today?
• What qualities do you want in a friend?
• What are three things you can do to help someone at school tomorrow?
• Who did you thank today and why?