My son and I just finished reading the fifth in the Harry Potter series. We’ve been reading these books together for the last three years (one at every Christmas and birthday) – I’m a total Harry Potter fan and I’ve been spacing the series out as much as I can to savour the experience! Much to my son's annoyance who wants to read them all yesterday!
One of the many things I love about the Harry Potter books is their exploration of sadness, grief and anger. Without giving away any important plot lines, every book – while having many moments of joy and victory - is also tinged with sorrow. There is grief in every book.
Just like in life.
Because of this, I’ve found these books have given me opportunities to start conversations with my son about some important topics. We’ve had some quite precious conversations courtesy of Harry and I've found out some important things about what he thinks, feels and believes.
If you are reading, or your child has read the Harry Potter books, here are some question ideas you can use to spark some fun and important discussions - and learn more about your child.
If you had a magic wand for a day, what would you do?
If you could fly on a broomstick – where would you go?
If you had an invisibility cloak, what would you do?
Would you like to go to a school like Hogwarts? Why or why not?
What does Ron do when he is angry or sad? How about Hermione? What about Harry?
What do they do when they are worried?
What helps each of these people the most when they are feeling sad or angry?
What do they do which DOESN’T help?
Who are you most like? Who do you think I am most like? Dad? Your brother/sister?
Who do you wish you were like? Why?
Do you like Dumbledore? Why? What adults in your life are like Dumbledore? How are they different?
What stops Harry from telling adults about his worries?
What advice would you give Harry about what to do when he is feeling sad/worried/angry?
Can you do this when you are sad/worried/angry? What makes it hard?
What don’t the adults in Harry’s life really understand about him? Are there things in your life that adults don’t really understand about you?
How to ask these questions
While you are asking questions, try to act as relaxed as you can. Kids tell us more when we look relaxed and curious - not like a stressed interrogator! Just ask one or two questions at a time after each chapter perhaps. Or stop mid chapter to ask, naturally and curiously. If your child is reading the book on their own, use car trips, meal times, walks or bedtimes to ask questions. Say, “hey I was thinking about the Harry Potter stories the other day – I’m interested in what you think about…..” and go on to ask some questions.
If children don’t know the answers to these questions or don’t seem at all interested in answering – let it go. Chnge the topic. Don't insist on an answer. But ask again on another occasion.
Why ask? They're not that interested and I've got a to do list four kilometres long.
There are at least three significant benefits to asking children questions like these.
First, asking questions tells kids you are interested in their opinion and in their ideas. Asking questions says, “I love you, like being with you and think you have interesting things to say”. This is important for self esteem, security and helping a child feel warm and connected. This will go on to help them in many areas of life.
Second, asking questions helps children form and express their own feelings, opinions and ideas. When children (and adults) are asked questions they are more likely to form an opinion on an issue – even if they don’t quite know how to answer the first time around – than if they aren’t asked. When children (and adults) are asked questions they are more likely to get good at expressing how they think and feel, than if they aren't asked.
This is important because kids who are skilled at expressing how they think and feel do better in many areas of life than those who aren't skilled at this.
Third, when you ask children these kinds of questions, you learn just a bit more about what they think and feel. We learn about potential problem areas for them. We learn more about how we can love, care, coach, teach and support them.
No Parent Guilt!
Remember, you don’t have to spend hours on this. You don’t have to spend three hours in an in depth analysis of Harry Potter and how it applies to real life. Just pick two questions and spend 2 minutes on these during tea tonight. Small bits of conversation frequently are worth just as much (if not more) than hours in deep and meaningful conversations that seem impossible to find time for anyway.