The Power of Asking (instead of telling)

Contributed by Jody McVittie

As a parenting educator, one of the complaints I hear is, “My children don’t do what they are supposed to do. I have to tell them over and over and over again.” It reminds me of one of the very first successes I had after taking parenting classes. After the success I had another aha: “What I was doing wasn’t working and yet I was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting my child to do something different.” I just hadn’t seen it that way. Before I was upset that my child wouldn’t change. It hadn’t occurred to me that I hadn’t changed either. Why did I expect a different result?

So why don’t kids do what we tell them to do? Radical thought: maybe because we are telling them. When you tell someone what to do they don’t have to think. They can listen or not listen – but then it goes away. Your daughter doesn’t have to think about or notice the mess, or her unfinished homework, or the chore she didn’t do or remember to write a thank you note. You are doing the noticing (and reminding) for her. In fact, when we parents do all the noticing and telling their brains don’t have to engage much at all! What a life!

Except of course, that we nag and get resentful. That isn’t much fun for us. (They just tune us out – which makes us even more resentful.)

Here is the good news. When we change what we do, our children will (slowly) change what they do. When you ask, or notice and ask your child’s brain has to engage to respond. That brain has to start its gears moving. Not only that, your child begins to notice and think…two very important functions to be responsible (response-able). Are you ready?

Instead of, “It is time to do your homework,” try, “I’m noticing that you haven’t done your homework and there is only one hour until bedtime, what is your plan?

Instead of, “Put your dishes in the dishwasher,” try “What did we decide would happen when you are done eating?”

Instead of, “Before you go to Katie’s house you need to get your chores done,” try, “Yes you can go to Katie’s but there are a few things that need to be done first. Do you remember what they are? (Then listen and make sure that the two of you agree on the list.)

One more hint: In general, “what” and “how” questions are much more well received than “why” questions. More on that topic next week.

When we practice asking instead of telling we are doing more than teaching responsibility. We also are indicating as sense of faith and trust in our child that they can see and solve the problem. And we build connection, trust and respect.

Would you like more parenting tools? We have two free parenting talks coming up. One on January 26th, the other on February 23rd. For details check out our calendar.

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About SoundDiscipline

Teaching people to do the right thing when no one is looking ... Growing equity and democracy, on family, one student, one classroom at a time.
This entry was posted in Connection and love, Growing Responsibility, Motivation, Mutual Respect and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Power of Asking (instead of telling)

  1. Pingback: Using “What” and “How” Questions | Sounddiscipline's Blog

  2. Dena says:

    Thanks for the article. Can you talk about how this applies to toddlers?

    • It applies easily to toddlers. “What happens after you get your pajamas on?” “How does (name of pet) like to be petted?” “What can you do to clean up the milk on the table?” If as adults we listen to all the directions we give children most of them can be turned around – to turn the brain on. The response isn’t quite as fast (because thinking is involved) – but much more powerful in the long run.

  3. Pingback: The power of asking « my time with you

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