It was only when I became a parent did I truly realize the value of questions. I believe questions are one of the greatest and underutilized parenting tools we have. Questions are the new answers. When you ask more questions and give fewer answers you empower both you and your child.
As an Outward Bound instructor questions were the corner stone of my field work. We used questions so much as Outward Bound instructors that the end of course skits would often involve a parody of our question asking ability. Responding with questions became second nature to me. It was my natural response to answer a question with a question. A common example would be on the trail during a rest break with kids exhaustedly sprawled on their backpacks. A student would approach with the map and compass and desperately ask, “Where do you think we are?” To which I would reply, “Where do you think we are?” She would then say, “I think we are here.” And I would reply, “O.k. and why do you think that?” She would respond with her reasoning and I would watch as her confidence grew and her navigational skills flourished. Would this have happened if I had simply given her the answer?
Eventually with my crews it would get to a point that when they were trying to figure something out whether it was a bear-hang, navigation, setting up their tarps, etc one would say, “Lets just ask Beth.” To which the others would replay, “No, she will just answer with a question. We can figure this out.” And I would sit back and watch as this once “answer” obsessed group of kids become independent, critical thinkers. It was a joyous sight!
Here are 5 ways to use questions in your parenting:
1. More Questions Fewer Battles
A sure fire way to get in a power struggle with your child is to tell them what to do. It may be on an unconscious level, but when you tell your child what to do they sense an implied threat. A loss of power in their relationship dynamic with you! They will sabotage to reclaim this loss of power.
Rather than tell your child what to do redirect with a question. For example instead of saying, “Stop that!” rather ask, “Are you sure this is the right place for that behavior?” Another example would be when your child comes home and dumps their coat at the front door. Instead of saying, “Pick up your coat now!” redirect with “Are you sure you want to leave your coat there?” Questions like these move your child into the thinking state rather than fighting state.
2. Empower Them to Own and Solve their Problems
It is human nature to want to hand off our problems to other people. This happens with adults as well not just kids. If we establish a pattern that every time our child comes to us with a problem we solve/answer it for them they will no longer worry about the problems in their life. Why bother if mom is going to take care of it.
They will also miss out on the learning opportunity of solving their own problems. True self confidence comes from figuring things out for your self not a gold star. Plus they will be more likely not to cause problems if they have to do the work of solving them. So the next time your child approaches you with a problem lock in the empathy and then ask, “What do you think you are going to do about it?” or “Hmm… that does sound tricky, how do you plan on solving it?” By asking your child how they will solve the problem you are sending a power message to them that you believe in their abilities, they are smart, and that they can come up with the answer. You have empowered them to do the thinking.
The human brain desires closure. It wants to complete the loop. It has a hard time ignoring questions. The brain will put its energy into finding answers to questions which means less energy for resistance.
This has been a parenting life saver for me. I have twin 3 year olds and when they are in the car they love to engage with each other which can be draining for me. When they do this I simply ask them questions like, “Do you think Connor, our dog, would like to go swimming with us at the Y?” or “What would you like for lunch?” or “Do you think the bears are waking up or are they still sleeping?” Any random question I can think of and you would not believe how well it works. They forget what they were engaging in and attempt to answer the question. It moves them from their place of resistance, engagement, whininess, etc. to calm, inquisitive, pliable little people.
4. Prevent you From Lecturing
Often when we become a parent a switch gets turned on in us that I call the “lecture switch”. Although we hated lectures as kids we find ourselves giving them to our kids. And as you have learned they don’t work. The moment we begin a lecture our kids tune us out. They blame us for the consequence rather than themselves and it prevents us from building positive relationships with them.
Rather than lecture use questions. Questions will prevent you from delivering lectures and it will move your child into the thinking state. An example of this would be your child receives a brand new bike for his birthday. He is super excited to ride it to school and you worry that it will get stolen. Normally you would begin to lecture about responsibility, making sure your bike is not stolen, etc. Instead begin with questions. “That does sound awesome to ride your new bike to school. What are your plans for making sure it doesn’t get stolen? Do you think thick rope will prevent kids from stealing it? What is something you might want to use rather than think rope? Where at school do you think is the best place to lock up the bike? I always struggle to remember my combination for my lock. How are you going to remember your combination?”
5. Questions Lead to Discovery
Questions lead to discovery and discovery leads to motivated learners. When my girls ask me how something works or why the dog does something I will lead them on a road of discovery by asking questions. Rather than giving them the answers I ask strategic questions to allow them the freedom and confidence to discover the answers for themselves. This increases their experimentation and inquisitiveness. All little people are motivated learners the key as parents and educators is to keep them motivated and the best way to do this is through questions. By asking questions rather than giving answers you create a culture of experimentation and discovery.
Highly creative achievers don’t begin with a brilliant idea. They discover them. They ask “what if” and “why not”. Questions are the new answers.
How do you use questions to empower your parenting? Please share your experiences by clicking the “Leave a comment” link at the top of this post, I’d love to hear from you.