Sometimes parents can talk too much. There’s too much questioning, nagging, lecturing, telling them what/how/when/where/why, taking over, yelling, and yakkity-yak. Too much noise.
When my kids come home from school, I ask “how was school”. I never expect any answer other than “good”. And I leave it at that, I rarely ask any more questions. Just asking that one question opens up the possibility of communication. I know that each of them will come to me throughout the evening to tell me about their day. They do that when they are in the right space and frame of mind to talk, when they have sifted through all of the information and interactions they have experienced. And when they come to me, I listen. I tend not to ask many questions, but I do a lot of listening – repeating what they have said to me, reflecting on their emotions, being present, being silent and holding that space between their inner and outer worlds.
I do the same with the children I work with. Listening enables the child and I to get to the heart of what is bothering the child with very little effort. Everyone likes to be heard and have their thoughts and feelings validated. Parents are surprised when I tell them that I rarely offer solutions to children for their problems. I work alongside rather than stand over the top of. Kids are smart. Through listening, children often get to the solution themselves, and because they have come up with it, they are committed to it.
Dr Beth Onufrak in the USA has written a wonderful article on her blog “A Child in Mind”. Titled “What’s wrong with the Wh questions?” she explains that questions shut a child down very quickly.
Dr Onufrak says that “Wh” questions can be unhelpful because they:
1. Shut down a child’s own narration and conception of the problem
2. Block a child’s sharing of the salient details to him
3. Pigeonhole a child’s thinking into your categories of thought
4. Build a child’s frustration with adults
5. Make a child more upset from the communication gap
She advises that a better alternative is to say to the child “Tell me all about it”.
Sometimes parents jump in and take over when a child asks for help. A nice question to ask your child is “what have you tried already?”. Once you have listened to the child’s explanation, leave some space for silence, and then ask a question or provide a hint that will give the child ‘just enough help’ to nudge him up to the next level of knowledge and understanding, without making the leap for him. I always prefer to use questions or hints that start with “I wonder”. Of course, if he’s struggling, then provide the answer. There will always be other opportunities to support your child’s learning. And remember to give him descriptive praise for his efforts.
Making time to ‘be with’ our kids, spending time, showing affection, being present, being available, being responsive and reflective, being alongside, and listening, truly listening, to our kids – when we do this , our kids return the effort in spades through being amazingly competent and communicative young ones.
Categories: Parenting Skills