Our children understand the value of asking questions, probably better than we do. They ask questions if they want to know something, if they want to challenge you or even if they just want to push your buttons. Our children have so much to learn in every facet of their being – spiritual, moral, emotional, academic, and physical. Initially our children are like sponges – they soak it all in. But we want our children to become thinking people, involved in their learning beyond just listening and following instructions.
Asking questions is a powerful learning tool and if we as parents harness this tool we will find our children thinking and learning for themselves instead of using having to tell them everything. When we ask questions of them it helps them pause and think and even dig deeper. So here is the How and Why of asking your children questions.
[Tweet “Asking your child questions helps them think for themselves – leading to deeper learning.”]
Key Principles about Asking Questions
1–As a parent we have a choice – we can tell our child, or we can question our child. Please note, questioning our child is a tool – at no time does it completely remove the responsibility we have of instructing our children. Different purposes – different tools.
2–To simplify things in our house I often separate learning into two categories – knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge tends to be the information side of learning, and wisdom describes the applied side of learning – and this applies to moral, spiritual or practical learning. The head and the heart can be stretched and matured by the idea of asking questions.
3–I think the reason questions are so powerful is that they can lead to conversations, conversations develop relationships. When we take the time to ask questions of our children, we are telling our children that we want to talk this through with them, that they are important, that we enjoy their thinking, and that we are learning too. Our children learn so much when we have conversations. Our goal isn’t just to ask sterile questions, think about answers and move on. No, the idea is to ask good questions that generate conversations that ultimately improve our relationships.
4–Know your purpose – we don’t want to ask mindless questions – what is it you want your child to learn in the conversation? Do you want him to learn thinking/reasoning skills? Do you want him to be able to articulate the things he has learnt? Do you want him to think through a situation? Know your purpose before you start asking.
5–Stay focused – even if the child waffles – listen carefully – they may say something that takes you totally by surprise. They may know more than you think, or they may reveal their heart in a way you never expected. Though we need to have our purpose, our greater purpose is to see our children learn and to develop our relationship with them. Be flexible (have a purpose but not a solid agenda).
6–Don’t ask rhetorical questions – ask a question, expect an answer.
7–Don’t answer questions for them. The idea of asking questions is to get your child to think the answers. We short circuit the learning opportunity by answering questions for them. We may need to break down our question into a few leading questions, guiding their thinking. If they say they can’t answer you need to discern if it is a distraction technique on their behalf or if they honestly don’t know the answer. Your response needs to be appropriate in this situation.
There are Two Types of Questions
1–Closed questions – these are for discovering facts or information. Not a lot of discussion is required. The other aspect of a closed question is one that requires a simple yes or no answer – such as questions started with “Did…, Can … or Are …”. These may have their place but you won’t touch your child’s thinking or their heart, and you won’t deepen your relationship with closed questions.
2–Open questions – these questions generate conversation (once our children feel comfortable answering them!) We look for opinions, solutions, ideas, original thought when we ask open questions. We use openers such as What, How, Who, When and Why.
Good Questions to Ask:
- What do you think about?
- What would be right?
- What would happen next?
- Why would that happen?
- Why did that happen?
- How does that work?
- How do you know that?
- Can you tell me more?
Situations for Asking Questions:
Once we start thinking about conversations with our children being us asking them questions and then us listening to their answers we will find these types of conversations happen all the time, in all sorts of places. But it can be a tricky habit to start so here are some situations you’ll find yourself in – maybe you’ll recognise them quicker after reading through this list.
- When our children express opinions, we can question them for more information. This helps our children form solid opinions and helps us understand their thinking.
- When our children are processing a moral dilemma – a question will help them process and internalise what is right
- When our children are learning facts our questioning can solidify their learning or help them dig deeper.
- When our children need to complete an action (do the right thing) our questions can help them think what is right without us having to tell them.
- When there are problems to solve, our questions can help break down the steps, once again removing our need to tell the child what to do, and consequently empowering them in thinking of a solution.
- When we want to get to know what our child is thinking about an ethical situation – this helps them establish their world view.
Purpose behind Asking Questions:
Maybe this list will help you see opportunities to ask a question. You question will help them to
- Justify, explain their opinion, or stance
- Reflect on what they know or believe or have heard
- Ask questions themselves so they investigate further
- Sort and clarify what they think they know
- Provoke thought to think beyond what they know or differently than what they know
The Benefits for Asking Questions:
Asking questions can come across as confronting and intimidating so we really do need to watch our tone and facial expressions when asking our kids questions but when we get this right, when we ask in a way that invites a response our children’s learning and understanding is fast tracked. This is because they have to think. If we just fill our children with information which they don’t think about and interact with it will never be their own.
The second, but probably biggest benefit of asking our children questions is that they get into the habit of hearing and answering questions so that they start asking themselves questions. Imagine, as we read a story to our children and we consistently ask them what lesson they learnt from the main character (for example), eventually they will ask themselves this question – this leads to self-directed learning. This is so true with moral issues as well – if we constantly ask your children what is the right thing to do, they will find themselves asking the same question when they are by themselves.
As you interact with your family this week, I encourage you to balance your instruction with asking questions. Often your children already know what you are telling them anyway, so when we hold back from a lecture and ask a question instead, our children have the opportunity to interact with what they have already learnt, and start to think it through and apply it to their life. This is a central goal as parents – to help our children grow into thinking people!
Over to you:
Do you use questions in your family? Do you have any thoughts or tips to help others?
Do You Allow Your Child to have an Opinion: Though it can be confronting to hear our kids opinion, they need to learn how to think and own their beliefs and it starts with talking to their parents.
It’s Easy to Think it’s a Heart Attitude, but is it? Parents need to discern between a heart attitude and a bad habit that need to be overcome. Download cheat sheet with 5 questions to help you discern.