Neil Patrick Harris is an excellent communicator. He’s an amazing actor and just released his third young adult novel, The Magic Misfits: The Minor Third. But now that Neil’s twins, 8-year-olds Harper and Gideon, are in third grade Neil and his husband, chef David Burtka, are having to get more intentional about the way they communicate with their kids.
Specifically, they’re going beyond asking, “How was your day?” because Neil (like many parents) knows that asking the question this way typically leads to one-word answers.
“It takes a minute to remember that yes or no questions, at least to 8 and 9-year-olds, doesn’t really encourage them to embellish very much,” Neil told Motherly while promoting his partnership with Quaker Chewy to help drive donations to Adopt a Classroom, a non-profit that helps get school supplies into classrooms.
Harris is passionate about getting teachers and kids the school supplies they need, and he’s also passionate about finding out what his kids get up to in their classrooms. According to Harris, the key to getting kids to open up is taking this question further and giving kids a direction to take the conversation in.
“I try to ask them questions as if it is some kind of game. ‘Tell me three things that happened today at school—one that was funny, one that was exciting and one that was a little bit scary,'” he explains.
The father of two says this helps the kids take on the challenge of opening up and having a conversation, rather than just serving up rote replies. That’s why Harris tries not to ask things like, “What did you learn today?” or, “How was school?” (but like all of us, he sometimes slips up).
“Because unless they really want to share a specific thing, there’s so many options on how to answer those kinds of questions. I ask them myself, but I catch myself. You’re gonna have to be a little more bespoke in your questioning to get the answers you want.”