As parents we all want to help our kids so that they do not make the same mistakes we did. We often tell them what is right or wrong and try to make them do the right thing, which leads to lectures. Last week we looked at the reasons lecturing and repeating things does not get through to our kids. When we ask our kids strategic questions, it is far more effective and often the best way for us to teach our kids.
Why it this true?
When we ask a question, our kids must stop and think. They cannot just put it on autopilot and respond with their habitual answers or reactions.
I found with our fourth child, Eric, that this even works well with a three year old. He was strong willed and independent minded even as a toddler, wanting to dress himself at 20 months old. Stopping and asking him questions about what and why he wanted something or how his behavior was impacting his family members worked way better than telling him what he was doing was wrong. It helped him think and consider others’ feelings, which made it clear why his behavior was wrong.
Why do questions work?
Questions are more important when working with adolescents because of the development going on in their brains. Their brain development actually lowers emotional regulation causing them to show their frustration and be more oppositional with us when we communicate in ways that make them feel not heard or cared for, understood, believed in, or trusted. Their opposition seems like bad behavior, but most often it is a symptom that something we are doing is bothering them.
Two Insightful guidances to help us on our journey to asking Questions:
One: Many parents find questions difficult to formulate. Asking questions is an art; it takes some thought, foresight and creativity. While it seems easier to simply tell them what we believe, often that leads them to shutting us out internally. In fact makes it harder for our kids to open up and all we wanted was to make it simple for them. So is repeated actions from us as parents leading to emotional distance with our kids and causes them to tune us out? The answer is Yes. Then we need to make the effort to learn how to ask questions.
Two: Asking questions to our kids is healthier from another vital perspective. Telling them what is right and making them comply does not teach them to think things through and consider how their actions will impact their relationships and future. When we take the time to guide our kids by asking questions, they think, reconsider their positions and make far better decisions than if they are frustrated and pushing back against us. Asking strategic questions literally helps them learn to think things through for themselves! This is a vital skill that will help them avoid many mistakes when they leave our homes.
1) The first step to asking great questions is to slow down. Do not try to deal with everything the second it occurs. You do not need to correct every little mistake and attempt to try to turn every interaction with your kids into a teaching moment. This only leads to their tuning you out or feeling like they cannot do anything right. It is better to save your bullets. Consider what the central concern or issues is and formulate questions to help them think it through.
2) With this extra time think about what you want to tell them concerning the situation. Let’s say your son wants to get his driver’s license, but you have concerns about his attitude and anger issues that could impact his safety behind the wheel. Instead of telling him what he needs to change in order to get his license, formulate questions around those concerns. Telling him what he needs to do will seem like you do not believe in him or are accusing him of not being able to handle driving which leads to defensiveness, frustration and pushback.
- If you are in a bad mood and have gotten angry, do you think it is wise to get in the car and drive?
- How should we handle scheduling conflicts with the car? What should take priority?
- How should we handle it if you get angry when you cannot have the car?
Questions force them to consider things they would not naturally think about.
3) Asking questions makes them think, respond and gives you a window into their thought process. It enables them to communicate their thoughts and will show you if they look at the situation responsibly. Many parents are surprised at what they discover when they begin to hear from their kids. While telling and expecting is the norm, it does not allow kids to display their responsibility.
4) Consider their answers. When parents take this approach they find that their kids’ responses are far more responsible than they expected. This opens up discussions and enables them to consider their kids’ perspective. If there are differing perspectives allow time to for both sides to reflect before coming to a final conclusion. Often kids need time to process the questions, formulate responses and consider their parent’s perspective before being able to come to the best decision.
In the end asking strategic questions requires considering the things you want to tell your kids. Once the topics are identified, turn the topics into open-ended questions that will short circuit their typical response patterns and force them to think it through. You can come alongside them much like a mentor and serve as a sounding board. Your kids want to succeed and do much better if they are not pushing back against your approach and control.