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.