We ask our kid the same question at the dinner table every day — and it helps both his thinking and our parenting

The author and his family. Steven John

  • Being able to talk to your kids is important at any age, and is best established when children are young, open, and impressionable.
  • Changes in life, like a new school schedule, can mean less time spent together as a family, making the remaining shared time all the more important to use well.
  • By asking the same questions every day, parents help children reflect on not just the day that’s ending, but on all the days that make up a given period in their lives.

My wife and I have a five-year-old son and a seven-month-old daughter. We ask our kids a lot of questions, and many of them are the same day after day. While Scarlett can’t do much answering yet, her older brother Ben sure can.

Among my favourite questions to ask my son is, “What did you have for lunch?,” because his school’s chef prepares meals that sound fit for a Michelin-star restaurant, while my wife always asks about specific projects he worked on. We ask who he played with at recess, what songs the kids sang at music class, or what games they played at gym, and so on.

Most of the family dinner table talk revolves around Ben’s day at school, because that’s usually more interesting than the stuff adults do. (“And then, I did more research before I started writing an article!”) But the primary thing we ask our kid at the dinner table every day doesn’t necessarily have to do with school, and in fact is often the most telling on weekends, during travel, or over summer break. That question is:

“What was the best part of your day?”

I always ask this question, partially because I love knowing all about my son’s life and being as much a part of it as I can, even though he’s now gone for most of his waking hours at school from 8:30 to 3.

Asking him what his favourite moment from a day was tells me much about what he most values at each stage in life. Sometimes it’s playing with a certain classmate for several days in a row, which tips us off to schedule play dates out of school. Sometimes it’s learning about a given topic, which can help us think of what books, games, and other activities to have on hand.

We don’t ask what our child’s best part of the day was only so we can learn about it, but also so that he can learn about it. Asking open-ended questions like this elicits reflection and introspection. When Ben thinks back on his day, at times he has a ready answer, but sometimes it takes him a while to think through the events and experiences of the preceding hours before he can pick out that highlight.

Asking a child about a highlight from their day can also help put those not-so-great days in perspective. On days where my five-year-old is in a bad mood, is feeling tired or restless, or when he simply didn’t have a good day, having him isolate at least one positive can elevate his mood, making him realise it’s never all bad. (Or at least that it’s rarely all bad, but hopefully he won’t think like that for years or even decades to come, if ever.)

Read more:

I asked my 5-year-old son what it means to be happy, and his answer was surprisingly profound

The other reason open-ended, personal questions like this are great for a kid of any age as well as for an adult? There’s no wrong answer.

While I do care what my son most enjoyed from his day, and I encourage him to reflect and intuit from his pondering, more than anything, my wife and I know that communication is critical for raising kids that feel loved, valued, and engaged in the family and beyond. Until the kids are old enough to talk about the news, we’re talking about our days.

And as hackneyed as this might sound, it’s the truth: Usually, the highlight of our day is hearing all about his. The news is pretty rough stuff these days anyway.