Asking Powerful Questions

Have you ever had a child ask you questions until you just couldn’t take it anymore?

A study of 2 – 10 year olds reported on in The Telegraph (UK) this week indicated that mothers are asked nearly 300 questions per day. Mothers were called on to answer more questions per hour than David Cameron does during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The study discovered that girls aged four are the most curious, asking an incredible 390 questions per day – averaging a question every 1 minute 56 seconds of their waking day.

Questions from our children cover subjects far and wide. They may be closed questions that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or a short phrase. Or they may be open questions which invite longer, more thoughtful responses. Some of the toughest questions mothers get asked are:

  1. Why is water wet?
  2. Where does the sky end?
  3. What are shadows made of?
  4. Why is the sky blue?
  5. How do fish breathe under water?

Questioning and answering are essential components of teaching and learning.   Although on a long family drive to Queensland we may get tired of  being asked multiple times “Are we there yet?” we should try to take each opportunity to answer well and to ask powerful questions in return.

As our children get older they ask fewer and fewer questions. When they are young the world is full of mystery and excitement, there are learning opportunities everywhere and they want to know how their world works. As children grow older the amount of questions decreases.  The most frequently asked questions from teens or young adults become, “Can I borrow the car keys?” or “Can I have some money?”

As parents and teachers we need to turn the tables on our young people. We need to make sure that we are asking them powerful questions to find out what they are learning, how they are feeling, and what they are passionate about in order to promote their love of learning. As parents, it may sometimes feel like banging your head against a brick wall, but there are some techniques to help the conversation flow and to help spark those deep, powerful conversations with your child.

Closed questions have a place. They help you gather some basic facts, but if you ask your child “Did you have a good day?” you may simply get a “yes” or a “no” answer, or if your child is like the teenage version of me you might just get a grunt as they walk on by. Asking open questions may bring you more success.  For example, “Tell me about your day today” or “What made you say it was a good day today?” prompts your child to stop, recall what happened during the day, potentially re-connect emotionally with what they experienced resulting in some more information for you as parents.

Good open questions start with “how” or “what”. For example, “What are the main reasons for your change of heart?” or “How would you go about reclaiming motivation towards your work?” Fulfilling the same function as an open ended question is any statement that invites your child to speak: “Tell me more about …” or “Please describe how …” “I’d love to hear your thoughts about …”

Some other thought-provoking questions and statements could start like this:

  • How could you…
  • How would you describe…
  • How might this situation…
  • What would you…
  • What other options…
  • What makes this situation…
  • Tell me more about…
  • Please describe…
  • I would like to hear your perspective on…

I am sure the UK study rings true for many parents and helps us to understand why we may feel like we have been cross-examined by a lawyer after spending a day with a four-year-old. But just remember, as the amount of questions from your children dwindles as they get older, it is our role as parents to keep the questions flowing.

My question for you:  “What will be the first question you will ask your child when they come home today?”