Many of us have been programmed to think that if we want to know something, we ask. If we want more information, we question someone. We want to understand something, so we inquire. Therefore, when we want to “connect” with our children, we ask them about their day, their friends, their feelings. Unfortunately, we usually don’t get the responses for which we had hoped. Questions directed toward children do several things. First, children are taught that questions imply non-understanding. When they don’t get something in class, they are instructed to raise their hands and ask about it. So, if we ask our children what they are feeling, it indicates that we don’t understand their emotions.
Second, questions put children in their minds and kids live in their hearts. Questions require a cognitive process of hearing, listening, thinking and responding. Children until the age of about 12 do not have abstract reasoning skills. So, it is difficult for them to understand the “bigger picture”, and often are so caught up in their feelings that they cannot rationally deal with the question.
Third, if we spend time learning to recognize what children communicate without words, we will not feel the need to ask questions at all. Children constantly send non-verbal messages through facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, actions, behaviors, etc. If we are attuned to what they demonstrate, we can make statements rather than ask questions.
Here are a few examples:
1. Common Question: “Did you have fun playing?” when a child bounces up to you smiling. Statement Response: “You had fun playing!”
2. Common Question: “What is the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” when a child is upset.
Statement Response: “You are really upset right now”.
3. Common Question: “That scared you, didn’t it?” when something falls off of a shelf.
Statement Response: “That really scared you.”
Getting in the habit of using our intuition and telling children what we observe creates a very different dynamic between parent and child. The child feels understood and the parent hones skills that better communication. Remember, “If you know enough to ask a question, you know enough to make a statement”.
Some information taken from Landreth and Bratton (2006).