All men are created … innocent. Women too, of course. Kids start their life trusting their parents completely and following in their footsteps, which is very reassuring, but as soon as they become teenagers, critical thinking kicks in and they start to “see the cracks” and question everything.
Most parents find this annoying and challenging and resent their budding grownups for “bugging” them with their doubts and endless second-guessing. Those same parents typically frowned at them when they were 1 year old and walked around, pointing at things and asking, “What’s this?” When they were 2 years old, their parents became frustrated that they wanted to do everything themselves, and when they were 4, the parents were upset because no matter what happened, they kept asking, “Why?”
But these tender ages, along with the rest of childhood, are a time of discovery, and questions keep our kids’ mind sharp, teaching them about the world at their own pace and according to their own interests. In short, questions are good.
There are several types of questions, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and all very useful in parenting and generally in life.
These are useful for getting another person to speak and for getting more information. They often begin with the words what, why, when, who and how (collectively known as “WH Questions”), but they may also be presented as statements, such as “Tell me about…” or ” Give me examples of…”
As parents of very young children, we may not always be able to use these questions, simply because our kids do not have the words to answer and describe what they want, feel and think. As they grow up, we need to pay attention to this and gradually ask more and more open questions to develop the kids’ verbal expression.
Open questions inspire trust, because asking them is a sign of interest and respect. For example, when your child is late, asking the open question “What happened?” creates a safe conversation space and invites the child to share their story and possibly their feelings.
These questions require a yes or no answer and are useful for checking facts. They contain a statement on the part of the person asking and the only question is whether the other person agrees with that statement.
Closed questions (or “Yes/No Questions”) can help us guess what very young children are trying to say and thus help them express themselves. However, when the child has to answer too many closed questions without “hitting the point”, they will become frustrated.
Older children may view closed questions as an attempt to control the conversation, which they sometimes are. As parents, we should use these types of questions sparingly and check the assumptions we put into our questions carefully for any personal bias.
Closed questions are a great way to reach an agreement. By breaking up disagreements into parts and asking yes/no questions that solicit a positive answer, more and more common ground is established in preparation for the “little things” that remain to discuss.
Of course, when parental control is required, closed questions, such as “Do you understand?” may be in order, particularly to gain acknowledgement and avoid the later “Oh, I didn’t know” routine.
These are used to determine facts, to verify understanding and get clarification. As human communication is widely open to interpretation, clarifying question are a great way to avoid jumping to conclusions.
I often hear people describe conversations they have had with someone that upset them and talk in generalizations. The questions “What exactly did he say?” or “What were her exact words?” help me help them reconsider their interpretation and feel better about the whole exchange.
After the second probing question, the other person may start to feel as though you are doubting them in some way or even suspecting them, because the conversation begins to seem like an interrogation, so use this type of questions only to clarify the important bits.
Sometimes, we need to assess another person’s abilities, preferences and limitations, but we cannot put them through an actual experience for some reason (too expensive, too risky, etc), like in an interview situation. With kids, we sometimes want to prepare them for the future in a safe environment and ensure they will do the right thing in a real situation.
Hypothetical questions, such as “What would you do if someone called you a bad name?” or “What would you do with a million dollars?” can help us achieve that. There is no risk and no cost involved in thinking about the answer, but the discovery process can help a lot.
As parents, we sometimes need to help our kids deal with anxiety about a new school, a new friend or some unknown situation ahead. We can break the situation into steps, ask, “What can you do if this happens?” and guide our child towards a confident way to respond, until the anxiety is gone.
Hypothetical questions should fit the child’s age and experience. Also, dreaming is good, but to keep them focused on the present, remember to bring the conversation back to “What now?”
When your kids (or anybody else, for that matter) have a strong emotion, they may be too focused on expressing it to notice what they are saying. By paraphrasing their statements and acknowledging their feelings in the form of questions, you are reflecting their words in a non-confrontational way and giving them a chance to deal with their emotions.
Reflective questions, such as “So are you saying you were hurt by what happened?” make the other person feel validated and accepted, because there is no judgment in the question. Sometimes, using more accurate words can make them feel even more deeply understood and supported by helping them understand their own feelings better (“you were hurt” instead of “I feel bad”).
Be careful to reflect only things you have actually heard. Using information from other sources or taking a stand are not reflective and will likely cause the other person to clam up and feel even worse.
This type of questions is used to gain acceptance of your own view. If you say to someone, “You’re going to be OK with this, right?” they may not like to disagree. You can also ask little understanding questions in the lead-up to presenting your “inevitable” conclusion.
When dealing with children, leading questions help them see the way you reason and gives them the confidence you know what you are doing. You can also use them to guide your kids in social situations towards the best way to express themselves, as in, “That was a really great dinner, wasn’t it?”
The outcome of leading questions depends on where they lead, of course, and on the assumptions built into them, but they can be a powerful and gentle teaching method for you as a parent.
Questions that determine the answers
Ronit runs a presentation that demonstrates the danger in questions and the potential of using questions to manipulate. She displays a series of photographs of some real people and asks the audience to write down their answers to some questions. She then reveals the correct answers and the audience discovers just how biased their answers are.
But this is a deliberate exercise, in which the questions about the black man with the dark glasses are different from those about the young woman with the heavy makeup or the old man with the moustache.
In much the same way, reporters on TV pose pointy questions in their interviews, which children should learn to spot if they are ever to form their own opinion on the world. The modern world masquerades many manipulative statements in the form of questions and a good way to remain in control of our minds is to be aware of this and notice the effect it has on us.
Questions are good for parenting
Besides modeling questions for your kids, it is a good idea to encourage them to practice asking questions too by accepting their questions happily and providing good answers.
Questions are one of the main tools used in life coaching. Instead of giving the client advice, a life coach guides the client in exploring their own feelings and developing their own solution with questions, thus maintaining a professional position and ensuring the client’s ownership of the solution. We believe that parents are their children’s life coaches. Ask and you shall receive … happy kids.