Three Questions that Matter ©
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NOVEMBER 27, 2009
David J. Pollay, HappyNews Columnist

“How was school?” “What did you do today?” These are some of the typical questions we ask our school-age children during dinner. The question is, how often do these questions lead to interesting and engaging answers?
At some point in time, most of us have felt frustrated because we do not know the questions that will encourage our children to speak openly and meaningfully about their day. We want to know what is going on with them. We want to know what they are excited about. But questions that lead to answers such as “fine,” “okay,” and “I don’t remember,” do not help us learn more about our children.
Three questions
Here are three questions that may help you and your family. These questions may lead you to some interesting, meaningful, and fun conversations at the dinner table with your children.
Question #1
“What was the "top" of your day?”
We know from Psychology that our experience in life is based on where we focus our attention. We want to give our children an opportunity to recall something positive in their day. Make sure to explain that the “top” of their day is a time when they were most satisfied, challenged, happy, or having fun.
You can use this additional question to learn even more about what excites your children: “Why” was that the top of your day?
Question #2
“What did you learn today?”
Stanford psychology researcher, Carol Dweck, has spent decades researching what contributes most to our success in life. She sums up her findings in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She wrote: “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
When we ask our children what they learned today, we are demonstrating our interest in their growth. We are as concerned with their practice as we are with their performance. We are also communicating that we want to see them stretch themselves every day. Learning is key.
Consider asking this follow-up question to further focus your child on the importance of learning: “How did you learn that today?”
Question #3
“What were you grateful for today?”
We do our children a great service when we help them understand the power of gratitude. We help them realize how many good things and how many good people are in their lives. Our question gently directs them to think of what they value and care about.
Sociologist Georg Simmel wrote, “Gratitude, as it were, is the moral memory of mankind.” Our inquiry prods them to thank the people that help them. And we know from Positive Psychology research that the more grateful we are, the happier we become.
Think about asking one of these questions to deepen your gratitude conversations: “Why are you grateful for that?” and “What about that makes you grateful?”
Questions guide and stimulate
The beauty of these three questions is that they stimulate our children’s thinking. And they can also influence our children subconsciously throughout the day: Our children know that we expect them to be grateful, find something good, and learn something new every day.
And don’t forget to answer these questions yourself. Your children will understand what’s important to you: You will model what you value. And you will personally feel the uplifting benefits of focusing on these three questions.
Bon appetit!
David J. Pollay is the creator of The Law of the Garbage Truck™ ( David’s book, The Law of the Garbage Truck: Take control of your life with one decision and change the world, will be published by Sterling Publishing in September, 2010. You can find out about The Law of the Garbage Truck™ and David’s mission at You can also read David’s blog at

Three Questions that Matter ©