“How was school today?”
“Are you sure that’s where you’re supposed to put that?”
“How long have you been using the iPad?”
Questions build connections when they are an opportunity for parent and child to share about their lives. Questions can help us find out more about what the other person is sharing. They can also be used to gather more information to check and correct your own assumptions, leading to more understanding. When someone asks us questions, we may feel that they are interested in us, that they care about knowing us better, which can make us feel special!
But how often have we asked a question only to cause the other person to clam up? Questions can be hard to deal with sometimes. When they’re used to judge, entrap, or tell the other person what to think, feel, or do, questions can also be sites of disconnection and shutting down.
We most commonly think of questions as tools to find something out, but we often use them to tell someone something. These are 3 common types of questions that adults ask, which lead to kids feeling stuck, accused, or belittled.
“Why did you do that?”
This question could be a genuine effort to find out your child’s reasons behind doing something. Yet, depending on your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language, it could convey judgement or criticism instead. Feeling attacked, your child is more likely to defend themselves than to calmly explain their reasoning, as they feel that their actions have already been judged as “bad”.
Bramble Tip! If you’re trying to find out the “why” behind your child’s behaviour but want to avoid asking a question that might sound judgemental, try simply reflecting an observation. For example, instead of asking, “Why are you making a long face?” you can say, “I noticed you looked tired when you came home today.”
“Who broke the glass?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
Asking questions like these when you already know the answers sets the responder up to lie, get in trouble, or look bad.
Not every statement has to be a question – if you know the issue you’d like to address, you can open your conversation with a neutral, straightforward sentence like, “I saw that you broke one of the glasses this afternoon.”
“Do cars drive on the road or in the river?”
“What’s the difference between a country and a continent?”
Teaching questions, also known as tutorial questions, are ones to which the speaker already knows the answer, but is trying to teach something to the other person. These often feel like a test! The pressure to get the answer right is not always enjoyable. At the very least, it switches the context of the conversation from learning more about each other, to highlighting the fact that one person knows a lot more than the other.
Another form of such questions is advice disguised as questions. “Don’t you think you should…?” “Have you tried…?” Phrasing them as questions tries to create the illusion of openness and exploration, but they make a point about what the other person should do, instead of encouraging discovery together.
So... What kind of questions have you been asking?
Try this out: for one day, limit yourself to only asking questions that you don’t know the answers to. Challenge yourself to use neutral statements (like making observations) when you’d like to state a fact or point something out. We’re curious to hear how this changes your communication with your kids!