When you enter a store and the salesperson asks the common greeting, “How are you today?” do you ignore the person—or is there a natural tendency to give a response? During a conversation where you are explaining something and your friend suddenly asks you a question, do you continue talking and ignore the question or do you respond to it? Notice that in each of these scenarios, there is a natural tendency to respond to a question. And herein lies the most important and effective key to remember if you want to reduce your stress and promote responsible behavior: The person who asks the question controls the conversation.
A national magazine ran a cover article about frustrated parents who were exhausted from answering their young daughter’s constant questioning, “Why?” The parents would have been less frustrated if, instead of always attempting to answer her every question, they would have asked the golden question, “Why do you think?” This simple approach would have reduced the parents’ stress, prompted the youngster’s imagination, and helped to develop the young girl’s reflective skills.
The point to remember is that when conversing with your child, you need to be the one doing the asking. Your questions will direct the situation and prompt your child to think in the direction you would like. Even when your child recognizes what you are doing, the approach is still successful because (1) it is noncoercive, (2) your child understands that what you are doing is in her or his best interests, and (3) the process is empowering for the child.
CAUTION: Your communications should not be a continual series of questions. Talk, share, offer suggestions, and when you desire to redirect the conversation or attention, then rely on your questioning skills.
A final point to ponder: As parents, we can also reflect on the questions we ask ourselves, such as, “Am I proud of the way I interacted with my child?” and “Would I be offended if someone interacted with me as I interacted with my child?”