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Home » Positive Ways to Talk and Listen »

Ask Real Questions

Dad: Is Spanish getting any easier? Boy: No. I still don't understand my teacher!

Consult With Your Child About Your Child

"Your child is the best consultant you can find for what your child needs, if you are willing to listen. From the time he was born, your child knew when he was hungry, needed to be changed, when he needed to go to sleep. So ask questions that tap into your child's self knowledge."

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-author, Raising Cain, Senior Project Advisor

Avoid leading questions. Questions that include an answer, such as, "Don't you want to change your clothes before we leave?" or, "Wouldn't you like to apologize to your sister now?" are really orders, not queries. These questions are likely to provoke a sullen response, or a plain old "NO."

Instead, ask valid questions. Questions such as "What you do you like (or hate) most about school right now?" will produce real answers. A real question about food might be, "You haven't been eating much lunch lately, what would you like to have today?" In comparison, a leading question on the same topic would be, "You know you like peanut butter, don't you want some?"

Avoid general questions. Whether you have a preschooler or a preteen, well-meaning but general questions such as "How was school?" often produce only one-word answers, such as "good," "bad" or "OK." General questions often lead to dead-end conversations.

Instead, ask specific questions to inspire productive conversations. Refer to something that happened recently, such as, "Is Spanish class getting any easier?" These questions work because they draw on your child's unique experience and therefore elicit specific responses.

NEXT: Tough Topics

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