Where are your questions going?
We are constantly guiding our children, teaching them, nurturing them, supporting them and empowering them. The more tools we have to do this well, the better. Great questions are one such tool.
All questions lead somewhere. The real question is where. Some questions lead to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, which means they lead to short conversations or they lead to doubt. For quick information they are very useful, for example, “Have you brushed your teeth?” Other times they are less useful, and may just cause uncertainty, for example, “Have you done enough to pass?”
‘Why’ questions are commonly asked by parents too. “Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to?” “Why are you being so naughty?” The problem with these questions is that often children don’t know the answers to them, and even if they did, knowing the answer probably wouldn’t cause the desired behaviour change in the child anyway.
In contrast, asking children great questions leads somewhere useful. They lead to good decisions, they suggest certain kinds of behaviour, and they maintain good feelings between the parent and child. They are often more effective that a directive statement too, in that the child takes ownership and responsibility for an action, rather than feeling it’s been enforced upon them.
I saw an example of this with my three year old niece recently. She’d been to the toilet and we asked her to wash her hands. She’s not quite tall enough to reach under the stream of water in the basin properly, so got very little contact with the water. My brother told her to stand on the stool so she could reach properly, something she didn’t feel necessary to do. At almost the same time, I asked her the question, “How much further can you reach if you stand on the stool?” This is a question that invokes curiosity, and sets a little bit of a challenge, making it far more interesting to stand on the stool to wash her hands than be happy that she’s done what was requested with just slight contact with the water.
When a child starts playing around instead of eating their dinner, I often hear comments like “Eat your dinner please,” usually with mixed success, and often repeated several times with an increasingly frustrated tone of voice. Instead I like to ask, “What are you going to eat next?” This question assumes that something will be eaten and gets the child immediately looking for an answer and searching their plate for what looks best. This can also be made more detailed if necessary: “What are you going to eat next? Broccoli, potato or chicken?”
Another question structure I really like for children is this: “Do you want to have your bath before dinner or after dinner?” The question states that two things will be happening: the bath, and dinner. The question is therefore not whether these things will be happening, but in what order they will be happening, meaning the presence of the activities themselves is never in question.
Other examples of great questions to ask children include, “How are you going to play nicely together?”, “How are you going to share well?”, “Which part are you going to clean up first?”, “What are we going to buy for dinner on the way home from the dentist?”, and “How much fun can we have making this?” All of these questions suggest that certain things are going to happen, and in order to answer these questions effectively, the child has to accept those things as a given. That means playing nicely, sharing well, cleaning up, going to the dentist and having fun are all part of what comes next.