questions vs. answers

bears fishingIn our book we talk about the value of asking good questions of kids in order to get better information and to help them think about different perspectives. Many times over the last week – as my kids have encountered bumps in homework and relationships with friends, teachers, or coaches – I’ve offered them answers and advice. Offering solutions and sharing my thinking is one of my roles as a mother, and I do so gladly and I hope, for the most part, with balance and insight.

But I’ve also been working on balancing suggesting solutions with asking questions.  And here is why: questions help kids explore options and become better problem solvers. Even when the solution might be clear to you, there is great value in your child being able to consider a problem and possible solutions with you as a guide.

“What else have you tried?” “What might happen if you make that choice?” “What other information would be useful here?” Compare these types of questions with what a child learns when you offer “Just go play with someone else” right out of the gate.

With questions, you also communicate your confidence in your kid’s ability to problem solve, and give him responsibility in finding a solution. You help him anticipate outcomes and evaluate choices. Your role isn’t one of rescuer, but facilitator.

Yes, facilitating is harder work. Every parent wants to stop the hurt, frustration, or complaining as quickly as possible, and engaging a child in wading through it all, in the short term, prolongs it. “Just ignore him when he’s being that way” can feel a lot more expedient than “How would you like him to treat you?” and following the conversation where it might lead. “That’s not the kind of friendship you need” takes much less time than the discussion that might ensue from “That’s a complicated relationship. What are the good things that you’re getting out of it? What is challenging?”

Of course there are many times that I so clearly and passionately want to take my kids’ side, and my instinct is to get right up there with them when they are indignant or hurt and be the Mama Bear, growling and gnashing at whatever offends. While that retaliatory roar is really gratifying (and maybe sometimes the right response), grinding through the occasional messy problem solving doesn’t mean that you’re not taking their side. In the long run, it fortifies and deepens their own problem solving skills, enhances self-knowledge, and promotes self-advocacy. You’re standing next to them in the stream and teaching them how to fish.  -t

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