Answering a question with a question

Have you ever come across the term ‘answering a question with a question?’

In my early days of academic life coaching I remember Leslie Josel, an academic coach herself based in the US, discuss this in a webinar I participated in.  This has stuck with me since that time and is something I regularly discuss during parent workshops as I think it is a great skill and tool for all parents to have.  By adopting this approach, parents can assist their children in many areas including learning responsibility, time management, organisation and in general life skills.

Let me explain this further.

How often when a child asks us a question do we give them the answer straight away, often without even thinking?  The child will ask ‘Mum do you know where my shoes are?’  To which a parent would reply ‘they are at the front door‘ or something similar.  By doing this we are not getting them to problem solve or be responsible for themselves.  Where as a better way to put it would be:image of a person and a question mark - answering a question with a question

  • have you had a look for them?
  • are they in the usual spot?
  • where did you last have them?
  • where did you take them off last night …?

By responding with a question they are having to think it further through and try to remember where they left them rather than just seek the easy way out and have us problem solve for them.  As parents we often jump in too quick and try to fix things which does not assist our children to develop the necessary skills they need for themselves ie how to problem solve.

Often when a parent responds with a question the next response from a child is usually ‘I don’t know?’.  If this is the response you get then ask them ‘what do you know ie where were they when you last used them?’.

Parents will often say to me at this point that their child starts to get annoyed with them because they are not giving them the answer they are seeking.  As a parent we need to a determine how much scaffolding our child might need versus I can pull back here they are fine.  Younger children might need more assistance from you where as older children are usually able to work out where by themselves and are often asking the question in the first place out of laziness rather than really not knowing the answer to the question.

Don't answer a question if a question has not been asked - answering a question with a questionAnother way to look at this can be unless your child actually asks a question don’t go and solve it for them.  You are probably wondering what do I mean by this so let me explain.  How often might a child say something like ‘I am hungry’ and in response we as parents then rush around to solve that need rather than wait for them to ask us an actual question.  As a parent you would be better to say ‘is there something you need from me or something you need help with?’  By doing this you are getting them to formulate what they need.  This can be applied in many similar scenarios when a child makes a statement rather than asks a question – I am tired, I am thirsty, I’m cold, I don’t like …, I don’t know where …  Please don’t answer a question if a question has not been asked.

A few other questions that might also be worth asking from time to time which will get children to start thinking about solving problems themselves:

  • Do you think you can solve this by yourself?  This gets them to think they might actually be able to do this themselves – a can do approach.
  • What is the first step you can take?  This can help a child to get started and often they might be able to solve something by themselves if they start working out the steps they need to take.
  • What is the best way to do x? This gets a child to think more about what they are trying to do and access the situation at hand.

Here’s another slightly different approach around asking questions and applies more for children that are older – when they are telling you are story you could ask ‘Do you want my opinion or do you want me to just listen?’  How often again as parents do we usually just jump in and often it is not what our children/teens are wanting us to do.   If they are younger then you are still probably going to tell them what they need to do however with a teen you are asking permission before doing so and therefore are going to likely get a better response.

Why not give some of theses approaches a go the next time your child asks you a question or makes a statement – what have you got to lose?

If you would like some more advice or support to assist your child develop these important skills to assist them at both school and in life please get in touch.