Asking questions sounds like such a reasonable thing to do with our children. If we imagine an adult saying “Stop asking questions!” to a child, it would be easy to picture the stressed out, overloaded parent, probably in a supermarket, who simply didn’t have the patience for yet another infuriating, abstract question from the youngster. However, the title of this piece is a reminder to self, a reminder that I need to stop asking my children questions all the time, they find it just as disconcerting as I would. This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.
Asking questions is quite a normal habit to develop when we’re talking to babies who haven’t yet developed the capacity for speech. Certainly, talking to babies whether they understand or not is really important… they need to hear a huge number of words in context before they can decipher their parents’ languages. It’s a pretty common habit to ask our babies “Shall we get dressed?” “Are you hungry?” or “Shall we go to the park?” which is all great stuff.
The problem begins where the child has sufficient language to think we’re actually waiting for responses, that our questions are not simply rhetorical devices to get a dialogue going. It’s so frequent that we hear parents saying “Do you want this one or this one?” “Shall we go the park or the cafe?” “Shall we change your nappy? “Shall we go to bed?” asking questions where it isn’t really the child’s place to answer. Nobody should be surprised when the children start to flex their “No” and our temperatures start rising.
If we offer a child a biscuit or an apple, we shouldn’t feel disappointed if they go for the biscuit. If we ask a child if we should put their coat on and they say no… well… we only have ourselves to blame.
STOP Asking Questions Stupid!
Children DO NOT NEED the ability to choose or self determine until much, much later, unless it’s for the most inconsequential decisions. “Do you want the blue pencil or the orange one?”
Taking the Lead
This requires parents to take the lead which is another title I was playing with for this article. We are the ones with the responsibility for shaping our children’s lives… we are their guides. Just as a mountaineer might seek out the leadership of a local with specialist knowledge, we are their to take the lead through the wilderness of life.
If you were trekking through unfamiliar territory, how alarming would it be to have the guide turn to us and asking questions like “Shall we go this way or that?”
Making the journey through childhood is so much more reassuring and settled for the child when they look up to a parent imbued with an attitude of “I’ve got this.” Children are absolutely experts at living up to expectations and adapting to their environments. When parents clearly says “Yes” or “No” or succinctly expresses what is about to happen, children can take a back seat and enjoy the ride.
Asking Questions and Stress
Having spent many years surrounded by parents who wanted their child to be in charge of their lives far too early, I can clearly see the difference in terms of parental stress levels and the overall outcome for the child. If you want your child to turn out petulant, confused, anxious or even tyrannical, go right ahead… just keep asking questions!
Choose your Hill to Die on
If you can master the habit of quietly asserting what is going to happen from moment to moment, you will notice yourself having much better days with far less antagonism with your toddlers. We all need to choose our battles and we’re the ones who are supposed to be smart enough to do that.