But of course you already ask your child questions! Questions like:
“How was your day?”
“What happened at school today?”
“What did you do all day?”
Only, you’ve learnt that there’s no point in asking questions because your child just mumbles something, or gives you the same sort of answers every day. Answers like:
“Just hung around.”
You ask and you ask, and there’s never a meaningful reply.
Maybe you need to change the questions…
You might want to try asking: “What was the most fun thing that happened at school?”
Your child is suddenly forced to concentrate, because this question needs a specific answer. He will think about was the most fun thing that happened at school, and will reply to your question. You will learn about the people in his class, how they talk think behave, what they think of your child and each other, what your child thinks of them. You will learn the oddities of various teachers, and how your child relates to them.
Suddenly, your question has opened up a whole world to you, and you find yourself inside your child’s world, looking at his life from his point of view.
What a wonderful thing to happen!
Earlier, you were a parent, doing his/her ‘duty’, asking after the child. But now, you’ve become a privileged person, taken behind the scenes to see how your child’s mind and heart work, to see how he is growing and developing.
Or you may choose to ask: “Who brought the most exciting food today? Did you get to taste it?” (In India, most children carry lunch from home, though they can buy food at school as well.)
She’s thinking, and telling you what her friends brought to school, who ate what from whom, who said what, what happened, how it worked, how the boys gobbled up some unfortunate’s food… Again, for as long as she’s answering your question, you’ve been included in her life, and you’re watching with her eyes.
There’s so much that goes on in school, in neighborhood playgrounds (you’ve been a child – you know!) on TV, at home – pick anything, and ask a specific question.
So why is asking questions such a cornerstone of parenting? Because:
1. You learn what’s going on in your child’s life – You learn whom he likes, whom he doesn’t like, you learn about situations he and his friends encounter and how they deal with them.
2. You see how your child is growing – You see how her mind works, and can think a little forward into the future to predict what problems of the mind and heart she is likely to have. You may find that she has very rigid ideas on wrongdoing being punished. But life rarely works so directly or obviously. You can clearly see that this is an area where you need to work with her to make growing up and dealing with the real world less difficult than it would be if she were to adhere to her rigidity. You can share stories, ask for her ideas, give her suggestions on how she can prevent or minimize troubles in this area.
3. Your child will listen to you – When you say, “Sometimes people say something and do something else,” he will be more likely to connect with what you are saying because you will give him an example from some incident in his life that he told you about. And he told you about it because you asked questions.
4. You can guide/counsel effectively – Mostly, parents have no idea of what’s going through their child’s mind. (Obviously! Parents are not mind readers.) But we feel compelled to maunder on about values and principles and priorities and all kinds of stuff. No wonder children switch off. They just don’t see the point of all the endless lecturing/prosing on/ nagging.
But now that you are asking specific questions, you can tailor your guidance to what your child really needs.
5. Your child begins to talk to you – Oh, bliss! 🙂 Yes, you might doubt that this will ever happen, but as you keep asking questions every day, your child will get used to sharing her life with you. The day will come when you get home to be deluged by “what happened today”. 🙂 Every life is a story, and if you have listened to the story for a while, even as audience, you become a part of the story. 🙂
6. You rekindle your connection with your child – Your child feels loved and valued because of the time and interest you show in his life. Suddenly, you go from being the parent held at arm’s length to someone who is ‘on your child’s side, in his camp, batting for him’. He will be much more likely to talk to you about the issues he is faced with, the problems he’s having, the plans he’s making…
So ask questions. But before you launch your question campaign, be aware (beware?) of:
1. Repeating questions – Don’t fall into the rut of asking the same questions all the time. If you formulate 5 questions and repeat them endlessly, they will assume the flavor of “How was your day?” You are a smart, interested, committed parent. You can come up with hundreds of questions. Please do so.
2. Judging your child’s answers – Your child shows you an empty lunch bag, but while talking, she lets slip that instead of eating her food, she gave it to her friend so she could show you an empty bag. Don’t jump down her throat. Relax. Let her keep talking. If you see this happen for a few days, you can ask her why she wants you to feel she’s eating her lunch when she isn’t – but till then, hold your peace. Don’t react to and judge everything that goes on. You are the audience. The audience gets to watch, is free to think, but can’t walk up to the actors and tell them what should be done. 🙂
3. Helping your child – There are numerous interpersonal issues that your child deals with, and as you ask questions, you will learn what they are. If you keep giving him instructions / guidance on what to do with whom in which situation to create a specific result, he will not develop these vital life skills. His body will grow, but his mind will diminish because he will become increasingly dependent upon you to provide solutions to his ‘problems’. You need to guard against your tendency to ‘help’ your child.
Ask questions. 🙂
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