Ask, Don’t Tell

Today’s blog post is submitted by our featured guest contributor, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the post and look forward to more posts from Esther.

Asking questions can help parents establish good communication with their children. Questions can help children develop life skills. But some questions may make a child reluctant to answer—or to answer truthfully. Here are some pointers for using questions effectively.

Questions can help a child to:

  • Think: “Why do you think the sky is blue?”
  • Be creative: “What would you make for dinner?”
  • Consider consequences: “What do you think will happen if you leave your ice cream on the floor?”
  • Problem solve: “You both want to mop the floor, but there is only one mop. How can you solve this problem?” (No kidding, my grandsons were fighting about this yesterday and solved it peacefully. Unfortunately, they later came to blows over the only tennis racquet before I asked a useful question.)
  • Learn rules and routines:“What is the rule about hitting?” “What do you do after you brush your teeth?”

Jean Illsley Clarke writes in Time In: When Time Out Doesn’t Work :”First ask yourself, ‘What lesson does this child need to learn?’ Then ask yourself, ‘Is there a question that will help this child discover for herself what she needs to learn?’ ”

Other hints for using questions effectively:

  • Include some detail in your questions that will guide your child in answering: “What was first thing that you did in school today?” rather than “What did you do in school today?”
  • Offer a few acceptable options: “I can play Legos or Uno—which would you prefer?” You may be open to other suggestions, but offering specific ideas can make it easier for your child to come up with suggestions.
  • Be patient—some children need more time to consider their responses. Be prepared to listen.
  • Thank and praise children for honesty and telling you important things. This doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences for misdeeds.



  • Asking permission if you aren’t going to accept No for an answer. Ending a statement with “Okay?” implies that you are asking for the child’s approval. A clearer wording might be “Do you understand?”
  • Questions that imply a choice when there really isn’t one: “Are you ready to go to bed now?” Instead you can use a question to draw attention to what you want the child to focus on: “Are you going to wear your blue PJs tonight or your red PJs?”
  • Asking questions that are really threats or warnings: “Do you want me to stop the car?” Try stating a consequence: “If the fighting doesn’t stop, I am going to pull over.”
  • Asking too many questions at once. Be patient.
  • Interrogating or asking questions when you already know the answer (or think you do). Instead you can state your assumption about the situation and move ahead to problem solving and/or listening: “I see the window is broken, did anyone get hurt? We need to clean this up carefully and then talk about how to fix it.” “I’m concerned because you seem upset, do you want to talk about it?” As author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka puts it, you want to “Listen for understanding, not for weakness.”

When you need to know more:

There will be times when you need to get information to help you figure out how handle a problem or find out there is a problem. Honesty about the seriousness of the situation, expressions of your love for your child, and respectful questions will help. Then be patient and ready to listen. What you hear may be painful—but thank your child answering.

Don’t always tell your child things. Ask questions that show your love, your interest in the child’s opinions, and your respect for his or her intelligence.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

The Dining Room Table

Today’s blog post is submitted by our featured guest contributor, Tanya Pritt.  We hope you enjoy the post and look forward to more posts from Tanya.

I returned home to Santa Cruz, California a month ago for my mother’s 83rd birthday.  My sister, brothers and I meet together seldom, so there is always  an air of excitement when we do!   As I sat there, watching my mom (who can still dance in high heels and backwards) smiling at each of us, occasionally shaking her head and laughing, I was drawn back to the “remember when…..” conversation and was struck by the importance of tradition, storytelling, and culture of our family.

It’s the stories and the traditions of our family that have served to build foundations in our own families and now in the families of our children.  From things we said we would never repeat, but do, to the way we plan for the holidays, eat dinner together every evening, to checking in with each other even if it is just a quick text.  The similarities in my siblings’ families come from the way we were all raised and what was important.

Dinnertime was sacred when I was growing up.  We didn’t answer the phone, we didn’t get up until all had finished, and we talked about our day.  I loved these times.  Because we talked everyday during this time I felt able to bring up topics of concern when I needed to, or shortly after.  No topic was off limit.  We, depending on our ages, broached subjects that included school troubles, what was happening in our neighborhood, and more serious subjects like date rape (when we got a little older), divorce, and hunger.  I remember those serious topics and they set the stage for my own children and me when we had our dinnertime.

All of my boys were athletes and our day didn’t end most evenings until 8pm, sometimes later.  Our dinners weren’t the dinners I was fed because of the late hour.  Often, I am sorry to say, they were fast food we could pick up after a game or a practice.  The table was different too, because the homework was often stacked on top of it.  Our dinner table was the large ottoman in the family room (with a sheet thrown over it for a tablecloth.)  But we gathered around our “table” each evening and talked about our days.  And it gave us strength. No matter if life had knocked one of us down that day we knew we would be together that evening and that somehow, it would be ok.  Often teammates from my boy’s sports would join us and were sometimes surprised at the topics we discussed.  But they joined right in; some hungry for that level of sharing.


Whatever your family traditions are, they become more important as children grow.  They offer safety, openness, a chance to set aside the cell phone and convey that the child and time as a family is most important person at that time.  Rich or poor, formal table or the ottoman, we found the dinner table was our sanctuary and that no topic was off limits. Communication proved to be what made the difference in my children’s’ lives when they faced issues that included: drug and alcohol use, choosing friends, setting goals and expectations, and confidence and self-esteem.  Today, with busy lives, they continue the tradition of the dinner table, however that is defined.  And when I join them, I become my mother, listening  and laughing at the stories they tell and their memories of “remember when…”.

10 Ideas for Family Summer Fun!

I am in love with summer in the Willamette Valley.  During the rainy spring months, I begin to dream of picnics at Mary’s River and look forward to the day when we can eat as many fresh berries as we want. Family bike rides, kids swinging, BBQs, and splashing in cool water are other activities that come to mind when I think of summer in Oregon.   There is so much to do in this area in the summer both locally and within an hour drive.  If you are new to the area or not familiar with local family friendly activities, here are some free or affordable ideas to get you started:

  1. Take your family for a picnic/hike at Finley Wildlife Refuge. My kids love to hang out for a few hours on a nice day. Hike the woodpecker trail or walk around the boardwalk. We see wildlife every time and the kids love to explore and run free!  Picnic at the old white house afterwards.
  2. Enjoy the second year of the Sage Concert Series. Let your kids dance their hearts out and feed the ducks at Starker Art’s Park.  Concert donations all benefit the Sage garden, which is an educational garden that produces over 7,000 pounds of food for emergency food shelters annually.
  3. Enjoy an affordable paddle boat ride around Waverly Lake with your family!
  4. Visit Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. This is an enjoyable activity for family members of all ages, and it is free. Enjoy flying a kite at one of the many excellent beaches on the same day.
  5. Pick berries! There are dozens of u-pick berry farms in the area. Blueberries are currently in season, and we love to pick from either Anderson’s Blues or Radkes’.  This is Oregon living at its’ best!
  6. Go swimming! Beat the heat during July and August with an affordable family swims at Osborn Aquatic Center or Cool! Pool in Albany.
  7. Participate in a “Fresh Grown Cooking for Families” class in a beautiful garden sponsored by the Healthy Youth Program. Families gather together to harvest and cook in an outdoor setting and then enjoy a simple and healthy meal together. There are also hands on garden activities and lessons each week during the program. With a $20 suggested donation for each 4 week session, families can be healthy and build community while spending less money than what it would cost to cook at home!
  8. Camp in a yurt. My family has gone on several yurt camping trips in the area, with one of our favorites being at Silver Falls State Park. For more information, check out Oregon State Parks.
  9. Make a goal to play at every park in your community this summer. Start with  Avery Park in Corvallis as a local favorite or North Albany Park.
  10. Enjoy the many fun activities happening at Monteith Park in Albany including Movies at Monteith and the River Rhythm Series.
Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

We would love to hear your ideas of family fun during the summer! Happy summer everyone!