Family holiday conversations: Ask better questions and talk about what really matters

Steve Argue, PhD Image Steve Argue, PhD | Nov 11, 2020

Photo by Wagner Okasaki

The holiday season means connecting with family—which can bring both warm feelings and cold sweats.

Even in the COVID-19 and post-election season, regardless of whether you’re quarantined together or apart, you have opportunities to have good, real, meaningful conversations.

The kinds that matter.

The ones you remember.

It’s not that adults don’t want to have great conversations. More likely, it’s often the ambiguity of where to start. Or, if you do start, the dialog disappears before you can say, “pass the mashed potatoes.” In our hours spent interviewing parents and families from around the country, the FYI team has found that often for these conversations to happen, the older persons must go first. So, mom, stepdad, grandma, aunt, crazy uncle—that means you.

In Growing With, Kara Powell and I suggest the two-question approach. In other words, follow up a question with another question. This shows your interest in a young person and increases your chances of having a real conversation rather than it feeling like a pop quiz.

Don’t panic. We’ve got you covered. Below is a list of paired questions. Start with the first, and then keep the conversation going by asking the second. Put this next to grandma’s secret apple pie recipe and try asking questions that just might turn into conversations.

Not every conversation works for every relationship. You probably can think of even better questions. (We’d love to hear them!) But we’re sure of this—you want to talk with your young people, and (here’s another truth) they want to talk with you. It’s sure better than awkward silence with a slice of pie.

  1. How’s school going? ... Who’s your favorite professor, and why?
  2. How are you staying connected with your friends? ... Tell me about the friend you’ve felt closest to during the pandemic.
  3. What bands are you listening to the most these days? ... How would you describe their music and how it resonates with you?
  4. What’s your favorite show to binge-watch these days? ... Why do you think that show is so popular?
  5. What’s been the most challenging part about living in this season? ... Where do you feel like you need the most support?
  6. Is that a new smartphone? ... Tell me about the features you love the most.
  7. How have you been able to connect with a faith community? ... What’s been the best [or the hardest] part of that?
  8. What’s one of your favorite holiday memories from growing up? ... Why do you think it was so significant to you?
  9. What did you think about the election? ... What issues do you think are more important to young people?
  10. If you could travel right now, where would you go? ... Who would you want to travel with? Why?
  11. Who do you feel understands your life the most? ... What qualities do they have that you admire?
  12. What do you like and dislike about how we’ve been communicating this fall? ... What can we try differently for next season?

Download the questions

Remember that these aren’t formulas. They’re simple ways for you to get beyond the first question-and-answer exchange. And be ready to answer these yourself. Whether you’re sitting at the same table or zooming together across the miles, these are moments when connection and memories are made.

Everybody wants that. And we believe it’s really possible.

Tweet this: The holiday season can be an opportunity to have good, real, meaningful conversations with the teens & young adults in your life. Try asking these questions around the table this year.

Growing up doesn’t have to mean growing apart

Growing With features new research and stories from families nationwide to offer proven and practical answers that help parents navigate the tough new questions emerging with today's teenagers and young adults. Introducing three essential strategies to nurture family faith and relationships, Growing With is a parent's guide to journeying with your kid from adolescence through emerging adulthood.

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Steve Argue, PhD Image
Steve Argue, PhD

Steven Argue, PhD (Michigan State University) is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers, and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years. Steve is the coauthor and contributor of a number of books, including Growing With, 18 Plus: Parenting Your Emerging Adult, and Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry.

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