Let’s ask the right questions!
Hello Parents! Tell me if this conversation sounds familiar:
“How was it today at school?”
“What did you do?”
It sounds like a script, this conversation takes place every day. But why?
What if I told you the reason is that… we adults don’t ask the right questions?
Today I want to talk to you about this wonderful tool we have at our disposal, questions, and how they can really stimulate the conversation and language of children.
Questions are very useful communication tools, not only because they allow us to have more information about something, but also because they allow us to start or continue a conversation.
Depending on their age, children get to ask their parents about 300 questions a day!
But as parents, on the other hand, how many questions do we ask our children during the day? And do those help us get the information we seek?
Here are some tips on how to use questions to support the language and get the right answers.
1 # Use questions your child understands!
The questions fall into three groups:
- Closed-ended questions (require an answer that is “yes” or “no”), for example “Do you want water?”
- Multiple-choice questions (providing a choice between two or more options), for example “Do you want water or juice?”.
- Open-ended questions (have an answer other than “yes” or “no”), for example “What do you want to drink?”
These questions have different levels of difficulty: the first two groups can also be used with small children who still cannot speak, precisely because of their ease and because they have the possibility of being answered with a nod (closed answer) or with the gesture of pointing (multiple choice).
The last type (open-ended) is much more complex, and some questions are more difficult than others.
Questions starting with “Who” and “What” are the easiest. They can be understood by 1-2 year olds if supported by familiar gestures and objects.
For example, a 2-year-old child is able to answer the question “What is it?” while pointing to their pacifier, or to the question “Who is it” while pointing to their dad.
Questions with “Where” are a bit more complex. They start to have an abstract element, and the child must be at least 2-3 years old to be able to understand this question “Where are the shoes?”
The questions starting with “How” and “Why” can be understood by children from 3-4 years old, because they are more difficult. These are questions that require abstract reasoning, such as “How do you put your shoes on?”, Or “Why do we wash our hands?”
The question “When” is the most difficult and abstract of all: it is understood by children around the age of 4-5. To understand it, the child must have the concept of time, which develops as they grow.
What happens if we ask our child a question that he/she is not yet able to understand?
Simple, they will not respond as we expect.
The advice therefore is to understand what our child’s level of understanding is and ask the questions appropriate to their level.
I’ll give you an example:
If we ask “How do you want your hair today?” (open answer) and we see that our little girl does not answer us, let’s try to ask her “Do you want braids or pigtails?” (multiple choice), or “Do you want braids?” (closed answer).
By decreasing the level of the question we will be able to get the answer we were looking for.
# 2 Ask specific questions
General questions bring general answers, and short ones! Did you know that?
Think about when you meet someone after a long time, and they ask you, “How are you doing? What’s up?”
Think about the answer you would give … Surely a lot of things have happened, but usually the answer is always along these lines “Everything ok, the usual!”
Why? Because the question was too general, and the answer was consequently general.
This brings us back to our “script” of when our child comes back from school.
“How was it today?” is a general question, which calls for a general answer “Good”.
“What have you done?” is also a general question… There’s plenty of things to tell but there are so many that the simplest answer to give is “Nothing”.
When we start a conversation with our children, let’s try to be a little more specific, for example:
“Who did you play with today?”
“What did you eat for a snack / lunch?”
“What did you learn today?”
“Did you help anyone? Did anyone help you? ”
“What was the most difficult thing you did today?”
“What colors did you use today?”
You will see that the conversation will be much longer!
# 3 Don’t ask too many questions
This is the most important tip: let’s try to avoid asking too many questions.
Let’s do another life example: how do we feel when, during a conversation, they ask us more than four questions in a row?
Children feel the same way when we ask them so many questions.
Asking lots of questions, instead of stimulating and supporting our child to talk more… creates just the opposite effect!
The next time you talk to your child, pay attention to how many questions you ask them. If there are too many, try replacing half of the questions with comments.
I’ll give you an example:
If during a walk with your child you see something unusual, for example a squirrel, and the conversation usually goes like this:
“Uh, look! What is that? (Question) A squirrel? (Question) It’s so cute, right? (Question) Do you like it? (Question) What do you think its name is? (Question)”
Try to turn it into this: “Uh look! A squirrel… how cute! (Comment) It’s all red! (Comment) Do you like it? (Question) I think it’s called “Chip”. (Comment) What do you think? (Question)”.
Fewer questions and more comments will support your child in taking their communicative turn, without feeling the pressure of having to answer the question.
Did these tips seem useful to you?
Let me know by contacting me here!