Updated: May 20, 2020
Parents, do the constant questions get to you?
Parenting involves living through parts of your child’s development that consist of “why?” at least 45 times a day. Sometimes we feel so frustrated by the constant barrage of questions that we either 1) don’t know the answer to, or 2) don’t have time to answer. But, questions are important.
According to Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Four Agreements,” asking questions is vital. One of the four principles Don Miguel Ruiz writes about is “never assume, always ask.” Many of us don’t ask questions because we think it will make us sound stupid. But, according to Ruiz, asking questions “prevents miscommunication, doubt, mistrust and conflict in relationships.” So…
Have you ever heard the saying “the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask?”
Well, that is really true. Here at the farm, not asking questions can lead to all sorts of trouble. For example, someone did not ask where to turn a particular horse out. They were afraid asking would make them look dumb. So, they looked at the pastures, chose the nearest one, and let the horse out. In a few minutes we heard an awful commotion. Two horses were fighting. Yep, one of them was the one just turned out in that pasture. Seems that it did not get along with one of the horses is that pasture. That is why the two horses were kept in different pastures.
Talk about feeling dumb. Asking the question, “where does this horse go” would have been a much smarter choice, don’t you think?
Without further ado, here are some helpful things to remember when your child asks you questions.
1. Remember that questions promote curiosity, which leads to creative problem-solving ability.
Adults often see the world through years of experience. Children are often seeing and experiencing things for the first time. This fills children with curiosity, wonder, and amazement. Children often ask questions out of curiosity. They are not trying to annoy you. They want to know and understand.
Most of the world’s great advances have come because someone was curious. Sir Isaac Newton wanted to know why the apple fell. And probably why it tasted so good. Encourage your child to ask questions and be curious by responding with things like "Wow! Great question — you must be a curious kid!" and then answer, if you can. This helps the child see himself as a question-asker. See a child’s questions as an opportunity to engage with the child about something he or she is interested in.
Be okay with saying you don't know the answer. If your child asks you a question you can't answer, it's okay to say, "You know, I don't know!" Follow this up by encouraging your child to find the answer, or say "Let's find out together" so you can show your child what resources are available to answer his or her questions and how to use them.
2. Let your child ask “why” questions.
This question usually drives most adults nuts. Sometimes because we don’t know the answer, sometimes because we don’t have the energy or time to explain at the time the question is asked, and sometimes it makes us feel stupid because we can’t figure out how to explain it to them. There is a great book, “The Big Book of Why” by the editors of TIME for Kids. It’s available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere. There are actually several volumes aimed at different age groups. It helps answer many of those questions.
It’s important for children to know why things happen, why they need to be safe, and why learning is important. Remind yourself that gaining information is important to your child.
3. Value your child’s questions.
If you get flustered or annoyed easily by your child’s questions, he or she may begin to think that you do not want to answer questions or that asking questions feels bad or is not okay. There has been quite a bit of press on what educators are calling the “Growth Mindset.” This mindset believes that there is no limit to intelligence. You are not born dumb or smart. You simply need to exercise your brain, and the more you exercise it, the smarter you get.
Questions are important in fostering this growth mindset. Give encouraging responses to your child’s questions, even if you don’t have the time or energy to answer right that minute. This will encourage your child to ask questions freely and feel good about being curious. If your child asks a question during an inconvenient time, set a time when you can look it up together. Be sure to follow through later; set a reminder for yourself on your phone if you need to.
Asking questions fosters a “Growth Mindset” which fosters intelligence and creative problem-solving.
4. Model asking questions in order to support your child asking questions.
If your child asks you a question, ask one back to your child. This can help the child think critically or find a creative response. Asking questions back can help foster better social, emotional, and cognitive development. Ask questions around specific activities. If you’re playing with trains, ask, “Why do we use trains? What do we use trains for? Where do trains go?”
If your child asks, “Why is that kid crying?” say back, “What do you think happened to make that child sad?” You can follow that questions with, “What things make you feel sad?” And sometimes, when you are at the end of your rope, it can feel pretty good to reverse roles for a bit. Try it and see.
"Monkey See, Monkey Do" really is true. They do what you DO, not necessarily what you say.
5. Create a secure space.
Make sure your child knows that asking questions is okay and that no one will criticize or judge questions. It is especially important for shy or insecure children to know that there is no “wrong” question (see the story about the horse earlier in this post).
Remind children that it’s okay to ask questions they do not know the answers to. An older sibling also struggling with self-esteem or self-evaluation issues may say, “that’s a dumb question.” Remind the kids involved that there are NO DUMB QUESTIONS.
Lots of us know the story of the little boy in Holland who put his finger in the dike and saved his town. If not, here it is. Mary Elizabeth Mapes Doge wrote a book in 1865, called “Hans Brinker,” otherwise known as the “Silver Skates.” Holland was largely under water and gained huge amounts of farmable land by building dikes to hold back the sea. A crack in any of these could spell disaster and drowning for huge numbers of people. According to the story, Hans saw a crack in the dyke. Rather than simply going on about his business, he asked himself: “Why is there a crack? What will happen if this crack gets bigger?” And then took heroic action.
Questions can be VERY important!
6. Reward questions.
Children are often rewarded for having the correct answer, instead of for asking questions. Shift the focus to encourage questions. Give rewards for questions, even if the reward is just verbal praise. Children can learn that approaching topics through curiosity is rewarded, and rewards are not only for good test scores or high grades. This can encourage higher-level thinking and comprehension. For example, say, “I love that you’re asking questions. Let’s explore this further.” You can also say, “Wow, what a great question!”
They say that need is the mother of invention. If this is true, then curiosity is the mother of scientific discovery. We would not be where we are without curiosity and wonder. Young Isaac Newton was walking in an orchard, he noticed an apple fall. When he saw this, he asked himself: “If the apple falls, does the moon also fall?” This question put Newton on the road to all his future accomplishments. He later described the force of gravity and then concluded that all the planets and stars moved as they did because of this force, earning him the name, “Father of Gravity.” Without Newton, we would still be wondering why we don’t all float away.
Albert Einstein also started by asking just one simple question: “What would happen if I rode a beam of light?” He went on to use mathematics to describe space and time. His theories completely changed the way we view space and time and have been confirmed by every experiment ever conducted thus far.
Your child could be the one who launches us into the next great step for humankind.
7. Allow time for children to think of questions.
Some days this seems like pure silliness. Some days your child may be full of questions and you may pray for a moment of peace. But other times, your child may struggle to come up with questions at first. That’s okay. Allow them time to think and come up with ideas.
You can designate specific “Question Times” when children think of questions they may want to ask. Don’t put a time limit on the process at first and let the children have time to think through their questions. This can also save your sanity.
Having “Question Time” lets you create a time and space for you to be open to questions. And let’s face it, when kids see that they have you flustered and on the ropes, they sometimes want to keep pushing. Children do feel relatively powerless, and when they realize they have power, they sometimes don’t know when to stop. Setting “Question Time” prevents this power tug of war from forming and ensures you will continue to promote their growth mindset.
There is a time and place for everything, including questions. Set a "Question Time."
8. Roll with embarrassing questions.
Children often ask what adults consider inappropriate or embarrassing questions, especially in public, such as: “Why is that girl in a wheelchair?” or “Why does that man have a different color skin?” Don’t shame or shush your child for asking these types of questions. This can make the child feel ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed for asking a question.
Instead, answer matter-of-factly without making the child feel bad about asking the question. You can say, “Some people look different from you. Have you noticed that some people have glasses, some have curly hair, and some have different colored eyes? Every person is unique. Skin color is one way that people look different from you, but it doesn’t make people any different from you on the inside.”
Questions can encourage appreciation for diversity.
9. Make it fun.
Children love games, so work Question Time into playtime. Allow children to get excited about asking questions. Play around with asking questions. Remember playing the game “Twenty Questions” as a kid? There are lots of board games out there that encourage questions, too. The kid version of Trivial Pursuit, the “Would you Rather Be” game, “Guess who I Am?”, “What If”, or make up your own.
Questions can be exciting!