Kids under school age ask as many as 200-300 questions per day*. Young children live a life filled with a level of curiosity that appears to evaporate as they mature.
Answering questions is a vital part of parenting.
Asking questions is an equally important element of parenting and a tool that stimulates connection, confidence and critical thinking in our kids – in addition to nurturing curiosity.
Here are a few reasons why I believe questions are such a powerful part of parenting.
1. Our questions encourage connection
What do our young people think about current events? What are their hopes, fears and questions? What would they ask God in a face-to-face meeting? Well-formed questions can deepen family connection. At the dinner table, give someone the opportunity to ask a question of everybody else, use purchased conversation cards, or make your own (there are plenty of online resources.) Communicate, “I hear you,” as you attentively listen to each other.
One idea you can do is play ‘Question Ping-Pong’ in the car or on a walk.
The rules are simple – Two people take turns asking each other questions. No butting in, and a valid answer to any question may simply be, “I would like another question please.”
Genuine questions and deep listening connect people.
2. Our questions can arouse curiosity
For a time, I had the privilege of regular nursing home visits with some twelve-year-olds. Each week, question cards facilitated conversation and storytelling.
Thelma was an elderly resident who had undergone the amputation of both legs. While initially, the kids were cautious to speak with her, affection towards Thelma quickly developed.
As part of a post-visit conversation a few weeks in, one of the girls stated, “Once you get to know Thelma, you forget what she looks like because she is so lovely.”
My heart soared.
Genuine curiosity followed by engagement had dissolved the fear of difference and enabled beautiful, mutual connection.
Will Wise in the book Ask Powerful Questions claims there is a “national curiosity deficit that fuels division, separation and prevents us from building trusting, healthy connections.”
Can we wonder with our kids about people, their stories and what lies beneath the visible? Can we model and promote openness, humility and genuine curiosity?
3. Our questions can inspire confidence
“How did school go today?” was my query one time as I ‘ubered’ my daughter from school to netball. Her response gripped my parent-heart.
“Imogen and Mia wouldn’t let me play with them today. Nobody likes me.”
I want to side with my daughter and tell those so-called friends what I think of them. I wish I could rescue her from the pain of rejection and yet, as I respond, can I consider the long term?
I need to breathe, empathise, and later ask questions that empower rather than reinforce a victim mentality.
Questions that encourage problem solving communicate, “I believe you’ve got this.” What would you like to see happen? How could you approach this? How can I support you with your plan?
And as a check-in after the next day, “How did you go?” rather than a problem-centred, “Did they exclude you again?”
Maybe in the future, that solution-focused thinking will transfer to confidence in facing the challenges of adulthood.
4. Our questions can promote critical thinking
“I don’t believe in God,” “I don’t want to go to church,” (or some other statement of objection to a deeply valued belief), can hook our parent-hearts into reacting rather than responding.
Once again, well thought through questions and appropriate timing may just be the parenting tool we need. If we can still our beating hearts long enough to listen without defensiveness to this exploration of personal values, we might ask, “What led you to that conclusion?” “What have you seen, experienced or read that makes you think that?”
Once again, with the long- term view in mind, a parent who can facilitate this questioning with openness, can encourage their young person to deeply consider their own worldview rather than overreact to a reacting parent.
Attentive listening could provide an opening to be heard at some point and an apology for reacting, a reset and another conversation opportunity.
So why can’t a turtle sing?
Have you ever considered that maybe they can sing and the real question is “Why can’t we hear them?”
Many of life’s big questions, including those about current world events, will never have easy answers. Maybe together with our kids, we could consider alternate questions.
Intentionally using purposeful questions as a parenting tool could serve to deepen our family connections, in addition to developing the capacity for curiosity, compassion, confidence and critical thinking.
About the Author…
Andrea is a former secondary school teacher and counsellor. She has worked as a school chaplain for over 19 years and now also serves part-time on SU QLD’s Children and Youth Program Team, delivering training and professional development to chaplains and youth workers. Andrea and her husband are parents to three adult children and grandparents to two.
*Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question