Talking With Kids: How to Avoid One-Word Answers

By Sally Kidder Davis, PCI Certified Parent Coach

It wasn’t until I became a parent of teenagers that I recognized the value of asking my children ‘Open’ questions instead of ‘Closed’ questions. Closed questions call for one answer only, without room for discussion. Open questions invite your child to keep talking. Open questions show respect and they show that you want to listen. Open questions lead to open conversations that encourage both curiosity and uncertainty. Open conversations can offer us the surprise of new insight from our children.

On most days I would pick up my children from school and ask, “How was your day?” I usually got a one-word answer. And then I discovered the value of asking a more open question like, “Tell me the best part of your day.” And when I did that the words spilled out!

Just asking an open question isn’t always enough. I also needed to be fully present during the conversations. In a multi-tasking world, undivided attention is a precious commodity. Children need parents who listen with their eyes and ears. They need us to turn off the cell phone, computer, tablet, television, or other distractions that dilute the conversation.


This is Melvin! He reminds us that we were given two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak!


Conversation Starters

Children often need a little prompting and encouragement to share their thoughts. Conversation starters, like our Table Top Talk Conversation Starters can help. Our cards are specifically designed for diverse learners and their parents. There are 11 questions for parents to ask their children and 11 questions for children to ask their parents.

Here are a few examples of questions for parents to ask:

  •  What are you most curious about?

  • How do you learn best? By reading or seeing? By touching? Or by moving?

  • What do you wish I knew about you?

  • If you were in charge, how would you change your educational journey to better meet your needs?

And questions for children to ask:

  • Tell me about the teacher or mentor who made a difference in your life.

  • When you were in school what did you wish your teachers knew about you?

  • What is your favorite activity you like to do with me?

  • What do you love most about me? 

Our Table Top Talk Conversation Starters are an excellent tool for connecting with your child about something other than school, screen time and chores. If you would like a set of our conversation starters, please email

To help parents improve communication with their children we offer the Parent Survival Basket, a 6-session workshop designed to give parents support and strategies for long-term, sustainable changes that are specifically tailored to each family.

In addition to communication, the workshop covers ADHD, executive function, connection, compassion, and calm. We offer the workshop in person at our centers in Seattle, Kirkland or online to anywhere in the world.