I spoke quietly to Lincoln as I was putting him to bed last night.
“Do you know that I love you? I am so grateful you came to be a part of our family. And I am so happy that I get to be your mom.”
And some nights he lets me continue. “And I love watching you grow up and learn things and I am so happy that you are part of our family. I love you very much. And Adelaide loves you. And Daddy loves you. ”
But tonight he cut me off quickly, “bye!” “bye, mama.”
Cue for – “you can leave now, I’m going to sleep.”
Often our conversations last a little bit longer these days, but from very early on, those moments right before sleep with Lincoln have been my favorite. Back in the early days when he was still taking a bottle I’d whisper to him as he drank, reminding him of what we did that day and how much I love him. Now that he’s older, between the stories we read in his glider, I like to ask a few questions about his day and savor his answers. It is such a neat way to see his mind grow and develop but it is also such a powerful way to reinforce the principles and lessons he is learning each day.
A few tips for the questions to ask your toddler:
- Whether you use these ones or your own, keep your questions at the end of the night open ended. Open ended questions encourage conversation and help build stronger vocabularies for your little one (all but the first of these questions are open ended). I’m trying to be better at asking more open ended questions all day long (instead of asking Lincoln, “What color is the car?” ask him “Can you tell me about the car?”) and it’s a hard habit to break but I’m getting better.
- If you’re only getting short or one word answers, ask followup questions. Simply respond with “How,” “Why,” “What else,” or “Tell me more about that?” to keep your little one talking. With Lincoln I find that sometimes his first answer is the answer he thinks is the right one, or the one I’m looking for. The more followup questions I ask the more creative his answers become.
- Pay close attention to the answers. Just as you would exercise good listening skills if your girlfriend was telling you really exciting news, be present and engaged as your toddler is talking to encourage him.
I don’t ask each of these every night (because our bedtime routine is 10 minutes not 40), but here are some great options for questions to ask your toddler and a few of my favorites that I have on regular rotation:
Do you know that I love you?
When I first started asking him questions, before he could do anything more than nod, it was always this one. I would go on to tell him how much I love being his mother, how happy he makes me, and how happy I am that he is part of our family.
These days I like to also ask, “Who else loves you?” And together we list our family members.
What is something that made you cry/sad today?
My other variation of this one is just “What did we do today?” but I love pairing it with “What made you happy today?” as a way to talk through different emotions and reflect on what caused those emotions and how we responded to them. A big part of toddlerhood is learning to understand and control emotional responses and this helps reinforce that in a calm and loving environment.
What made you happy today?
I started asking my husband this question every night a few months ago and I can tell a difference in the way I feel about my life. With a toddler, this is a great way to start cultivating an attitude of gratitude and optimism by choosing to focus on the good things. I also love the chance this question gives me to give my own answer, when I can tell Lincoln how it made me happy when he shared his toys with Adelaide or helped me clean up the living room. I always end this one telling him how happy I am that he is part of our family and that I get to be his mom. I want him to always know how happy he makes me.
What is something that you learned today?
At 24 months, Lincoln is still a bit too young for this one because while he is learning SO much each day, we haven’t been labeling it as learning yet. Although, if this was a question I asked every night I’m sure he would pick up on it pretty quickly. This question emphasizes the importance of learning and highlights the progress your toddler has made.
How did you fail today?
We grow from our failures and I want all of my children to know that failure is a valuable part of life. It is also important to me that they realize their response to their failures is far more important than the failure itself and this gives us a chance to talk through their response. An alternative question that I really like is “How did you try hard today?” because it emphasizes the act of effort over the result. This question would give you the chance to talk about the failures and success that came through the effort while focusing on the process.
How were you kind today?
Growing up our family motto was “We are happy. We are helpful. We are kind.” and I can’t remember not knowing that me being kind was important to my mother. Over the years it became as important to me to and I love focusing on helping Lincoln find the ways he can be kind to his family and friends. Plus, this question just gives me a chance to reiterate all the behaviors I want to encourage (sharing with his sister, picking up his toys, saying ‘hi’ to the nice lady at the gym)
What is one thing you could have done better today?
This is another one we haven’t started asking regularly but only because we haven’t talked about the idea of “better” with Lincoln yet. In the next few months I’m excited to introduce it as a way to reflect on the day and make tomorrow just a little bit better. I love teaching personal improvement at such a young age and helping Lincoln learn the lesson that the one person he needs to compare himself to is himself.
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