Brainy Parenting

Inside: These are the best 4 questions to ask your child every day. Ask your kids these questions to get them excited to open up—and to teach an important lesson.

Right now, my four kids are home all day long, while my husband and I are working from home.

But because we aren’t with the kids during all their waking hours, by the end of the day we’re anxious to reconnect with our kids and find out how their day went.

Plus, it would be nice to get some reassurance that they haven’t spent every spare minute gorging themselves on an all-you-can-see buffet of unlimited screen time.

And yet when you sit down at the family dinner table after a busy day, asking your child “How was your day?” is like a dead end. You’ll hear “fine” or “good” or get a half-hearted shrug, and that will be the end of that.

During the school year, you can try asking questions about specific subjects, but questions like that don’t exactly spark a light in your child’s eyes. And during the summer or a school break, you can’t even use the structure of the school day as a starting point.

Recently, we started a family ritual that solves that problem: We ask our kids four quick questions every day.

This simple ritual takes just 10 minutes at the dinner table, and it actually gets our kids excited to talk about what they did that day. Plus, it reinforces for our kids the essential ingredients you need every day to protect your wellbeing and thrive, even during tough times.

And possibly the biggest win of all: This one daily ritual has inspired our kids to help out more around the house with chores, clean up after themselves, and pitch in to take care of their younger siblings.

The Most Powerful 4 Questions to Ask Your Child Every Day

The Most Powerful 4 Questions to Ask Your Child Every Day

I mentioned our 4-question ritual to a few friends and neighbors, and they’ve since adopted it into their own families. Then a few of them asked if I could type up a quick explanation so they could send it to their friends. And so below, you’ll find everything you need to know in order to start this daily ritual with your own family.

First, here are the 4 questions to ask your child every day, then after the list I’ll explain the science behind why they work:

  1. Body: What did you do today to move your body?
  2. Mind: How did you exercise your mind today?
  3. Family: What did you do to help out our family?
  4. Fun: What was the most fun thing you did today?

After the first few times you ask your kids these questions, you won’t even need to ask the full question. You’ll be able to say the one word listed in bold above as a prompt, and that will be enough to get your kid talking!

Before I share the research on why these four questions are the most powerful daily questions for kids, let me explain why we call this little ritual “The Life Canoe.”

Related: Family Connection Cards: Nurture a Relationship That Will Last {Printable}

What Even Is a…Life Canoe?

One night at the dinner table, we were talking to our kids about how you need these four areas of your life to be in balance in order to feel fulfilled and happy. And if you ignore one area or spend all your time on just one of the categories (like “Fun”), that would make it difficult to find happiness.

During the conversation, I racked my brain for an analogy that would help the kids understand even better. And finally after the conversation had already moved onto the kids trying to one-up each other’s fake British accents, it came to me: a canoe.

So I said: “Oh! Hey, remember that canoe we took out on the lake last summer?”

They stopped talking and stared at me.

My 12-year-old said, “Uh…yeah?”

“Well,” I continued. “Do you remember what happened when we got back to the shore, and everyone stood up and went to one end of it?”

Giggles from my 6-year-old. “It flipped and we all fell out!”

“Exactly,” I said. “Body-Mind-Family-Fun is a lot like a canoe but for your life. You need everyone to stay in their spot to distribute the weight evenly and stay afloat. And technically, you could survive with just 3 people in a 4-person canoe. But that would be hard to keep going because your arms would get tired from paddling without that fourth person pitching in to carry their own weight.”

Which is how we started calling this daily dinnertime ritual “The Life Canoe.” Kind of silly, but it paints a vivid mental picture for my kids that you need balance to stay afloat.

Feel free to brainstorm your own name for this family ritual to make it your own! One family I know calls it “The Life Buckets,” and a few others just call it “Body Mind Family Fun.”

4 questions to ask your child every day that will help your child thrive

Here’s Why These 4 Questions Work Like Magic

These 4 questions to ask your child every day are more than just a cute ritual with a silly name. Here’s the science behind why they work so well…

1. You’ll actually get your kids talking about their day.

When we ask kids “How was your day?” and they give us one-word answers, they’re not trying to be cagey.

The ability to recall events that happened earlier are part of your child’s executive functioning skills. But even though kids experience huge leaps in executive functioning from the ages of 2 to 6, development of those skills doesn’t peak until the age of 25.

Asking “How was your day?” can feel overwhelming to kids because their ability to think back through their day and recall events and experiences isn’t fully developed yet. But when you ask your kids these questions every night, you’re giving them some structure to help them recall and visualize memories from their day, which strengthens their executive functioning skills.

2. You’ll set a clear expectation.

Research shows that when parents set clear and realistic expectations, their children are more likely to meet those expectations. For example, this study found that clear expectations from parents about school result in better academic performance from kids.

Regardless of whether your family sticks to a strict schedule during school breaks and weekend days or whether you have a laissez-faire, anything-goes approach, these questions give your child a basic framework of the must-dos every day.

When you ask your kids these questions, you make clear what’s most important for their wellbeing – staying healthy, staying sharp, helping out, and having fun – so that their brains are primed to look for opportunities to meet those expectations.

3. You’ll reinforce the ingredients you need for a happy life.

If you want to set your child up to live a joyful, meaningful life, researchers recommend that you make a habit out of encouraging your child to reflect on positive experiences. That’s exactly what you’re encouraging when you ask your kids these questions every day.

But at a more granular level, each of these four questions highlights an essential ingredient you need every day to protect your wellbeing and thrive in life:

  • Body: Exercise is not only good for your child’s physical health, but research suggests that regular exercise will protect your child’s mental health as they get older. Plus, kids who move their bodies every day experience better moods, an increased ability to focus, more confidence, sounder sleep, and better academic outcomes.
  • Mind: In a child’s first few years of life, their brain forms more than 1 million new neural connections every second, but your child’s brain continues to develop throughout childhood. Real-life learning experiences literally build your child’s brain architecture.
  • Family: In the Harvard Grant Study, researchers found that in order to be happy and successful, you need a healthy work ethic. One of the best ways to develop that work ethic in kids is to have them pitch in with household chores and other work that supports the family as a whole. With the “Family” category, you’re helping to nurture the life skills your child will need to succeed as they get older.
  • Fun: Play boosts everything from language development to problem-solving skills, plus it improves your child’s wellbeing including physical and mental health.

4. You’ll help your child hone their problem-solving skills.

When you set the expectation that your child will be reporting back on how they did in each category every night, you’ll train their brain to look for opportunities to meet those expectations during the day.

But even if they forget, all is not lost. When we’re going around the table at dinner, sometimes one of my kids will realize they missed a category that day. (See the Frequently Asked Questions section below for ideas on how to handle that situation.)

For example, last night my 4-year-old realized she was short on something for the “Family” category. She was quiet for a few seconds, then said, “Oh! I’ll clean up the dishes after dinner.” Another night a few days ago, the same thing happened, and she busted out with, “I know! I can pick up all the LEGOs before bedtime!”


And the best part is that I didn’t have to nag her to help out around the house. She just noticed a gap between expectations and reality, and she came up with a solution to the problem. All I had to do was bite my tongue and let a few extra seconds of silence pass while she exercised her growing problem-solving skills.

I can’t guarantee this will happen with your child. But I have heard similar stories from other families who started a ritual with these daily questions for kids, so you might get lucky too!

How to Make These 4 Questions Part of Your Daily Family Routine

Here are a few ways my family and my friends’ families have tweaked their regular daily routine to include these 4 questions to ask your child every day:

  • Post a reminder. Especially at first, consider posting a visual reminder in a prominent place like on your fridge, on a family chalkboard or whiteboard, or even with special window markers on a big window. You can just write “Body Mind Family Fun,” you can draw pictures to represent each word instead, or you can do something else creative. Visual cues like that are a powerful science-backed tool that will remind you of a new habit you want to stick to.
  • Ask at dinner. You can take turns going around the table with each person answering all four questions at once then passing to the next person. Or you can have each person answer one question at a time, then cycle back through with everyone taking turns answering the next question.
  • Connect during bedtime. A few families told me they all pile into the parents’ bed right before bedtime to cuddle for a few minutes and then take turns sharing their Body-Mind-Family-Fun updates.
  • Brainstorm examples. When you introduce this ritual to younger kids, it can help to brainstorm a few examples of what might fall into each category. Then if they seem stumped one night, you can use those examples to jog their memory. For example, if they can’t think of what they did for the “Body” category, you could say: “Did you run around in the yard outside today? Or did you ride your bike?” (See the Frequently Asked Questions section below for more ideas for each category.)
  • Keep it fresh. To keep our nightly conversations fresh and add an element of surprise, we always end our Body-Mind-Family-Fun updates by asking one question from this set of the Best Family Conversation Starters. Not only do these conversation starters teach your child the art of a good conversation, but you’ll get to peek straight into your child’s heart. What’s important to them, what has them worried, what they’re excited about.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, you’ll find answers to the most common questions when it comes to these 4 questions to ask your child every day:

  • This sounds awesome! But how do I get my kids on board with this?
  • Aren’t there other ingredients that are important for your child’s wellbeing? Why these 4?
  • Why do you have just 4 categories? Couldn’t you add more to it?
  • What if my child doesn’t do something in one category? How do you handle that?
  • My child is having trouble thinking of different ideas for each category. Do you have a list we can use?

This sounds awesome! But how do I get my kids on board with this?

First, find a time when the whole family is together and isn’t distracted by other tasks, such as during dinner or when you’re all hanging out together but not on screens.

Then you can start a family conversation to introduce the idea, similar to something like this:

  • Parent: “Let’s pretend you were going to make chocolate chip cookies. What ingredients would you need for that?”
  • Kid(s): “Chocolate chips! Sugar! Butter?”
  • Parent: “Right! And what would happen if you tried to make chocolate chips cookies withOUT chocolate chips or sugar? How would they taste?”
  • Kid(s): “Blech! Not very good.”
  • Parent: “Exactly. Your life is kind of like that too. Now that we don’t have a school schedule we have to stick to, we have a lot of freedom with how to spend our days. But if we want to stay healthy and have happy days, there are a few ingredients we need to have in every day…”

After that, you can step through each Body-Mind-Family-Fun category and explain what they mean and why they’re important. As another option, you can use the “Life Canoe” analogy to explain it to your kids, or save that for a future dinnertime conversation to reinforce the idea of needing to balance all four areas of your life.

Aren’t there other ingredients that are important for your child’s wellbeing? Why these 4?

One major factor in a child’s wellbeing and happiness that’s not explicitly covered by this ritual is parental warmth. However, that ball is in your court, whereas this ritual teaches your child about how to support their own wellbeing.

And yet, it is extremely important to your child’s wellbeing that they experience regular moments of loving connection with you. But when you’re a busy parent, it can be hard to make sure you’re finding those moments every day.

When it comes to making sure that happens, one thing that’s worked wonders in our family is using these Family Connection Cards here. In just 10 minutes a day, these cards will deliver the powerful dose of parental warmth that your child needs in order to thrive. Plus, using these cards will help stop the power struggles caused by disconnection in your parent-child relationship.

Why do you have just 4 categories? Couldn’t you add more to it?

I chose to stick with those four categories because I didn’t want to overwhelm my kids and make it too hard to remember. The fourth category of “Fun” is something kids do naturally every day, so all they really have to remember to work into their day is Body-Mind-Family.

In general, I have found that any time I ask my kids to remember more than three things at a time, they tend to get overwhelmed and have trouble remembering. As it turns out, it seems like there’s a good reason for that:

“The short-term memory part of your mind – the part that tends to hold all of the incomplete, undecided, and unorganized “stuff” – functions much like RAM on a personal computer. Your conscious mind, like the computer screen, is a focusing tool, not a storage place. You can think about only two or three things at once. But the incomplete items are still being stored in the short-term-memory space. And as with RAM, there’s limited capacity; there’s only so much “stuff” you can store in there and still have that part of your brain function at a high level. Most people walk around with their RAM bursting at the seams. They’re constantly distracted, their focus disturbed by their own internal mental overload…This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pinpointed.” – David Allen, Getting Things Done

With that said, you can always add or remove categories to make this work best for your family.

What if my child doesn’t do something in one category? How do you handle that?

During your nightly Body-Mind-Family-Fun ritual, your child might feel like they haven’t done anything in a certain category. This is common because: Kids.

But the goal of this ritual is not to make your child feel ashamed for what they haven’t done. Instead, this ritual is meant to be a positive addition to your daily routine with your kids.

So when you find yourself in this situation, you can handle it a few different ways:

  • Be quiet. Bite your tongue for a few extra seconds longer than you feel comfortable with. Your child might surprise you by coming up with a solution to the problem! (See the “4. You’ll help your child hone their problem-solving skills.” section earlier in this post for more information.)
  • Throw them a bone. Your child might have trouble remembering what they did that day, or they might struggle to make a connection between what they did and how that fits into the categories. So if you can think of something your child did for that category, no matter how small, you can point that out to build their confidence for next time. Nobody wants to feel like they’re falling short of expectations, so that will keep the ritual a fun experience. If you’re worried about lowering expectations by pointing out something small they did, you can reinforce that, like this: “Oh! You did clean up your lunch dishes today when you were done. I know that’s just a small thing, but it’s at least something!”
  • Ask a question. You can say something like, “That happens to me too sometimes. I get to the end of the day and realize I didn’t do something for one category. What’s one small thing we could do together before bed for insert category name?” Asking them to set their intention ahead of time for what they plan to do will make them more likely to follow through.
  • Look ahead. Point out they’ll have another chance the next day by saying something like, “Well, tomorrow’s another day! We can put a sticky note reminder on the fridge to do something together for insert category name after breakfast. How does that sound?”

My child is having trouble thinking of different ideas for each category. Do you have a list we can use?

Of course! Below are a few ideas to get your gears turning about each category – except for “Fun” because your child isn’t likely to need ideas for that!

Body: Physical Activities for Kids

  • Go for a walk. To spice it up a little, turn it into a nature scavenger hunt with this printable.
  • Do animal walks. If you haven’t heard of animal walks before, you move your body in a way that resembles how that animal would move. Most of us have heard of crab walks or frog jumps, but you can find tons of ideas for more fun animal walks.
  • Ride your bike. Your child can stick close to home and just putz around on their bike, or depending on their age and whether you need to go with them, they can go on a longer bike ride to get their heart pumping.
  • Design an obstacle course. If you have more than one child, they can turn it into a competition and race through the course. Or for only children, they can show it off when they’re done, and you can run through the course together.
  • Do yoga. Screen time can be a useful way to keep your child active, especially on rainy days. For kids ages 3 to 6, we enjoyed this yoga video for kids. For kids ages 7 to 12, this yoga video is a great fit. For older kids, we love Jillian Michaels’s Yoga Meltdown.
  • Have a dance party. If you don’t already have a kid-friendly dance party playlist, you can use our happy family playlist here as a starting point.
  • Play hopscotch. Use sidewalk chalk to draw it outside, or use painter’s tape to mark out a game on a hard floor.

Mind: Brain Activities for Kids

  • Read a book. If your child isn’t a bookworm yet, get them a wide variety of options, including graphic novels, picture books, magazines, funny poetry, and chapter books. You never know what they’ll end up loving! For book recommendations, check out our list of the best picture books, according to kids and parents. Or as another option, they can listen to any audiobook version of a children’s book.
  • Solve a jigsaw puzzle. About once a week, my kids will go on a puzzle binge, putting together puzzle after puzzle. Our favorite puzzles for younger kids are the Melissa Doug floor puzzles. For older kids, the Ravensburger puzzles are high-quality and have lots of fun options to choose from.
  • Listen to a podcast for kids. Some of our favorites are Brains On, But Why, Stories Podcast, Tumble, and Wow in the World. For tweens and teens, we also enjoy Book Club for Kids, Stuff You Should Know, and This American Life.
  • Play a board game or card game. Check out our list of the best board games for all ages. We’ve spent countless hours testing different family games with all different ages to find the cream of the crop!
  • Do a science experiment. We have this book of 10-minute science experiments for kids, and my kids love it!
  • Build with LEGOs. To take this everyday activity to the next level, we got our kids this book: Awesome LEGO Creations with Bricks You Already Have. They can’t get enough!
  • Solve a word puzzle. We love this series of crossword puzzle books because they have perforated pages you can tear out so you can solve a puzzle on the go. As another option, the word searches from the Highlights PuzzleMania series kept my kids busy for a long while.

Family: Activities That Help Out Family

To make this daily habit stick for your kids, it helps to approach household chores with a playful attitude. If you can make it a team project, even better!

  • Give it 10 minutes. Every day after lunch before the kids run off to play, we set a timer for what we call our “10-Minute Clean-Up Party.” Everyone picks a room, and they pick up and put away anything on the floor until the 10 minutes is up.
  • Tackle the mountain. If your house has a never-ending mountain of laundry like ours does, we pile it all on the couch to see how high we can get it, then we turn on our favorite kid-friendly dance party playlist and tackle it together.
  • Round up the trash. Your child can get all the trash from bathrooms and any other trash can, empty them into your main trash, then take out the full bag and put a new trash bag in the trash can. My kids love taking out the trash because it means they get to put the new bag in at the end. I’m not exactly sure what the appeal is, but I’ll take it!
  • Cull the herd. Go through toys and pick some to donate to charity.
  • Make something yummy. Encourage your child to flip through your cookbooks or look for a recipe at a couple of your favorite blogs, then make it. They can try a new recipe for dinner or make a baked good as a family treat.
  • Help a younger sibling. Your child could read a book to their sibling, design a scavenger hunt for them, teach them something new, and so on.
  • Wash the car. Get the kids set up with a bucket, a sponge, soap, and the hose, and let them have at it.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear

Your Turn

What are your thoughts on these 4 questions to ask your child every day? Share in a comment below!

Kelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator

I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »

This post originally appeared on Happy You, Happy Family