I have a three-year-old at home, so we have a lot of interactions that go like this:

“Please [insert age-appropriate, reasonable request].”

“Why?”

“Because [insert age-appropriate explanation].”

“Why?”

It keeps going until his curiosity is satiated, he feels like doing the task, or, miraculously, my explanation makes sense to him. He’s asking “why” often because he doesn’t understand something, but doesn’t have enough words to help translate his curiosity into better framed-questions.

His frequent questions, though, got me thinking about the questions that I ask my kids. Am I asking the right questions for the answers that I want to get?

The answer to that question is probably not. We all ask “How was school today?” and most of us get an answer like “Fine.” We’re just not asking the right questions to help us understand what was good, bad, and ugly for our child’s school experience (which means more than just academics, but social interactions or even how the walk out of the building was).

Marlene Chism, in a blog post on SmartBrief, proposed three steps for business leaders to ask better questions that would benefit parents as well. Her steps were:

Set the right intention.

Are we just asking our question because it is the social norm, but we’d rather go back to listening to the radio when our kids get into the car? Do our kids know that we are speaking from concern and interest? Kids can tell whether we are asking the right questions. Is there a hidden agenda in your questions that might be negative (like are you wondering if they got in a fight today)? Put yourself in the right frame of mind.

Ask the right question.

This is the core of the challenge. We need to avoid asking questions that are closed. These are questions that have a simple yes or no answer, or perhaps a one-word answer (see the famous how was school today question). Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite greater responses, like:

  • Tell me what you did in science today.
  • How are you handling the problem that you had with [insert adult or child name]?
  • What was the most challenging thing you did today?

Listen

For most of us, this will be, as Chism writes, the hardest part. We often move quickly to the next topic without pausing to listen without cutting our child off. Let them finish sharing what is on their mind. Otherwise, they may sense a different intention. Pay attention to the answers you are getting and follow up on them to get the information that you are seeking.

It is possible to get your kids to share more with you. It all depends on how you ask.

What are your go to questions for learning more about your child’s day?

 

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