Dr. Rich Patterson

As a parent and as a teacher, I quickly learned that asking good questions was far more valuable and saved me much embarrassment before I simply reacted to what was happening.  Over time I have come to enjoy asking questions and saving my thoughts and responses for later, or not at all frequently.  As a parent, you are a leader of your family and leaders ask questions before they simply blurt out replies–Good Leaders that is.

You well know that often with kids, if you don’t ask a question, you certainly won’t get volunteer information.  So the first point I want to make is that you must ask a question if you expect any type of answer.  You might say, but I ask questions and only get short very unhelpful answers.  The art of asking good questions is something that educators work on their entire career.  They develop the ability to construct their questions to elicit responses that they are after.  Asking them in such a way that the child has to give you some detail.

It might look like this:  “How was you day?–Pretty good.” Instead how about, “Tell me what you loved about your day today?”  That will get a much better answer than the first question.  Then ask, “What did you learn today?”  If you get a short answer, follow-up with some detail.  Things like, “What class was that in?”  or “How do you think you could use that?”  Here is what is important:  Good parents have the ability to act ignorant and ask questions–to pick the brains of their kids to find out how they are processing things.

Second point is that by asking our kids questions we are making a connection with them.  It may give you some insight into their thinking, or they may branch off into another topic that they may not have shared.  For sure it will help to connect you with your kids.  You can share some of your experiences with them, struggles and situations that you had and how you processed them, or how you would do them differently.

Our influence with kids is not always equal, and varies during different times in their development.  That influence must be developed with kids over time.  Developing influence with kids starts with casual, low-cost, non-judgmental conversation.  Conversation that doesn’t put them on guard.  If you just start asking questions, they will soon wonder what you’re up to, why you feel you need this information.  Encourage them to share with you frequently and be sure to listen closely.  No distractions or interruptions and certainly no judgmentalism.  Just good solid listening skills.

Third point is help them to reach their maximum potential by asking them questions that push them to do better, to stretch themselves.  Too often we become stagnant mentally.  The day runs into other days and then when asked how things are going we just give an automated response, like ‘Oh, fine I guess’.  Over time you kids will learn that you want answers to your questions and that they have to think a bit, that you won’t let them off the hook.  If you are willing to work with vague answers at first and then through your curiosity continue to push them to higher engagement, you will find out things you would otherwise never know.  Enjoy the process–you will find it rewarding.

Rich