Behaviour & Emotions

Good lines for great communication

Parenting Place Conversation Starters

How was school? What did you do at lunch time? Why did you snatch that off your sister?

We parents can often lean on our standard repertoire of 'frequently asked questions' – the go-to lines of enquiry that tend to deliver some fairly monosyllabic responses:

Good. Not much. Dunno.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to go a little deeper!? Sometimes we just need some inspiration though, right? So we've put together a collection of good lines that open up great communication and enhance engagement with our kids. They're just examples, and may well inspire your own creative versions that are more relevant to your family's situation.

Some of these lines are useful in moments of tension – when maintaining connection is key but you need a minute to collect yourself and offer more than an uninspiring “Because I said so!”

Other lines speak life into our kids, encouraging them in our unconditional love – regardless of the situation that probably needs some talking about!

Others are there to simply inspire some curiosity. Being curious about a child’s inner world is so profoundly helpful in enhancing relationship and connection. It is also a powerful tool for helping our children process and regulate their big emotions.

Instead of “How was your day?”

• “Tell me about the highlight and lowlight of your day.”

• “What was something surprising that happened to you today?"

• “Who made you laugh today, and why?”

• “What was something kind that you noticed someone do today?”

• “What were you worried about today and how did it turn out?”

What was something surprising that happened to you today?

Instead of just saying “No” or “Not right now”

• “This is important to me too, so let’s find a time to talk about it.”

• “That is a good idea. Now I need some time to think it through.”

• “If you want an answer now it will need to be no. I need some time to work this out.”

• “My answer is no this time, but remember no does not mean never.”

• “We can arrange to do that, as soon as you have finished your homework/chores/practise.”

To encourage problem solving, try...

• “I knew I could trust you to work it out. Thank you for your efforts there.”

• “I believe you can handle this.”

• “I am proud of the way you handled that. You made some great choices.”

• “I’m wondering what you could do differently next time…”

• “I have some thoughts on that – I would be happy to share them if you are interested.”

• “What would you do if … you missed the bus/saw someone being bullied/lost your lunch money/saw an alien on the way to school…”

Taking a curious approach

• “This doesn’t seem like you. Can you help me work out what is really going on?”

• “I’ve noticed you’ve been very quiet this afternoon. I wonder if you’re feeling a bit nervous about that test tomorrow?”

• “I’ve been wondering how you’re feeling about lockdown… what’s the hardest part for you?”

• “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit frustrated by your sisters. I’m wondering if you feel like you’re left out?”

• “I was thinking of you at lunchtime today – I wondered who you were hanging out with…”

To celebrate and encourage

• “I am so glad that you are part of this family.”

• “I believe you have learned something and that is really important.”

• “You have tried really hard and I am proud of you!”

• “Thank you for helping me. I like it when you help!”

• “I will always love you, no matter what.”

You have tried really hard and I am proud of you!

To be seen

• “I know it is hard to miss out on something you really wanted.”

• “I am sorry that you are sad/angry/hurt/ disappointed/ lonely/exhausted/bored/frustrated.”

• “That’s really tough that that happened to you.”

• “That must feel awful to have been left out.”

• “I thought you were so brave giving that a go.”

Just for a chat...

  1. If you could have a superpower, what would you choose and why?
  2. Which day of the week is your favourite, and why?
  3. If you won a million dollars, what would you spend it on?
  4. What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you?
  5. If our dog/cat could speak, what do you think he would say?
  6. If our family all lived at the zoo, what animals would we be?
  7. If you could be a character in one of your favourite books, who would you be?
  8. If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
  9. What are three things you’re grateful for?
  10. If you were a teacher, what would you teach and what age would your students be?


Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Parent Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for over 24 years. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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