The Cave of Questions
I’ve always wondered how you keep an open, trusting relationship with your kids. How do they know that they can talk to you about anything, even things that might upset you? Certainly there’s no one answer to these question and, in reality, trust has to be woven through a loving relationship. But we have one activity that we think is a helpful tool for building trust and making it easier for kids to open up.
The basic idea of “The Cave of Questions” is establishing a time where the child and the adult take turns asking each other questions, any questions. We usually do it with just one parent and one child, but occasionally with the whole family. One person asks a question and everybody answers the question. Then the next person asks a question and everybody answers. We typically do 1 to 3 rounds depending on time.
Here are some tips:
- Establish the ground rules:
- Any question is allowed as long as it is asked in a respectful manner; The Cave of Questions is a safe place to ask whatever you want.
- Everybody answers the questions.
- Tell your kid this. Encourage them to ask hard questions.
- Everybody gets to ask 2 (or 1 or 3) questions (established each time)
- Make it fun!
- With Lincoln, we set the timer on the light in the room and race to the lower bunk (the cave) to get into place before the room goes completely dark.
- At times we have a blanket hanging down to make it more cave like.
- Kids can tell if you are enjoying it. Your attitude is contagious.
- Demonstrate the behavior you wish to encourage:
- Ask questions that investigate the other person
- Ask questions that allow you to share something personal. Be real, share truly personal stuff as appropriate (including your shortcomings, failures, frustrations, etc.).
- Don’t punish your kid’s openness.
- If they share something hard to hear (“I’m mad at you, Daddy”), you should see it as a triumph of trust rather than a slap in the face.
- Compliment them for sharing something hard.
- Encourage creativity in questions. Kids (especially young ones) will often ask the same go-to questions. Allow this but redirect:
- “Ooooh, I bet you can come up with a new question tonight!”
- “I wonder if you can ask a question that you’ve never asked before?”
- “Is there anything really tough that you want to ask about?”
- Some example questions. These are obviously geared for our age kids…
- What was your favorite part of your day?
- What was your least favorite part of your day?
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- Was there something today that frustrated/annoyed you?
- (From Lincoln) Daddy, why did you marry Mommy?
- How did you feel when I did ____?
- Is there something that you wish you were better at?
- Do you have any regrets from today?
- Is there anybody at school/work that mistreats you?
- Are you kind to people at school/work?
- What are you scared of?
- How do you think you could get along better with your sister?
- Do you have any questions about the way your body is growing?
- Are there any words you are wondering about? i.e. “Is it ok for me to say, “Oh my gosh!”?
- What are you proud of accomplishing lately?
- What do you hope to accomplish this year?
- Each question is an opportunity to:
- Discuss things when both of you are calm
- Learn about your child
- Demonstrate to them more grown-up attitudes
- Teach your kid about life
- Add trust and openness to your relationship.
Obviously there are many variations on this theme that you could adapt for your family. I was inspired by what Brian Stewart did with his kids. He made it clear that when they were driving in the pick-up together that it was a safe time for his children to talk about anything. The sooner your start with this, the more integral it can become in your child’s life.
Getting ready for bed is a time of predictable habits and rituals (helpful for getting kids through their squirrelly phase and ready for bed). We have added “The Cave of Questions” to getting on PJ’s, brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, reading books, and saying our prayers. If we are tight on time, the kids get a choice of “The Cave of Questions” or reading a book together and it is telling that they often they choose “The Cave of Questions”. It is something they enjoy and look forward to. What’s not to like?
And by the way, there’s no reason you can’t do this with your spouse… whether you make a cave out of the bedsheets is completely up to you!
I hope you find this helpful. Leave a comment sharing your thoughts and ideas!