Young children ask hundreds of questions every day. Research suggests that by adolescence, the number of questions per day drops to about three. There are lots of ideas about why this decline occurs, including both reasons of nature (i.e., natural development) and nurture (learned behavior and life experiences). Nonetheless, it happens… Kids stop asking questions as they grow older.
A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.” – Unknown
In this post, we continue with the topic of self-advocacy by exploring several ways to encourage kids of all ages to keep asking questions:
- Modify your own responses. Intentionally reply in ways that create a safe space for more questions. Try not to answer with a quick “No!” or with dismissive statements such as “Look it up” or “Go figure it out.” Instead, respond with reinforcing statements such as: “Great question!” or “Tell me more about what you are thinking” or “That’s interesting, what made you think of that?” or “You ask great questions.” If the child answers and then asks if they are correct, avoid replying with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, consider saying, “Let’s take a look…show me your thought process” or “That is not quite right, let’s look again” or “I love that you are checking in” or “that is not quite right…let me help…what questions do you have… Let’s see if we can figure out where you got off track.”
- Help your child see themselves as good at asking questions. Positive and prescriptive statements such as “You are such a thinker” or “I love how your mind works” or “You are so curious and ask such great questions!” are highly reinforcing and will increase the likelihood that your child will ask more questions. You probably recall from previous articles that our words inform our children’s beliefs about themselves. Tell them they are good at asking questions, and they will see themselves as having good questions to ask.
- Avoid answering questions for your child. Instead, respond with statements or questions that facilitate thinking, problem-solving, and further contemplation. Imagine that you and your child are playing volleyball with a giant beach ball. When the child asks a question, gently volley the “ball” back into their court. Be sure your volley is supportive and not dismissive. If you know the answer, consider responding to part of the question, and then research the topic further with your child. For example, if the child asks why flamingo feathers are pink, you might reply, “Great question! I feel like it is either because of the bacteria in the water or because of what they eat…I can’t remember. Let’s find out.” Or “Oh, are you studying flamingos at school?” or “What got you thinking about pink feathers? Let’s google it…my computer or yours?”
- Give your undivided attention. Avoid multi-tasking or half-heartedly mumbling a response when a child asks a question. Your non-verbals are a strong reinforcer. Let the child know their questions really matter by using your eye contact, smile, gestures, and body posture. If you cannot stop what you are doing at the moment, be sure to circle around later when you can give your undivided attention. It is never too late to let them know how glad you are they asked and that you want to uncover the answer together.
- Play games that get your child asking questions to think. My favorite is The Answer Game. You think of a question (“What was my first childhood pet?”) and then give the answer, such as “a cat.” The child must figure out the question. You can play this game verbally or on paper. Encourage your child to ask as many types of questions until they figure out the question. You can add clues or respond with “hot/cold” responses to keep them going. Then reverse roles and have them give an answer and you model asking good questions. Another favorite is the 20 Questions Game. You probably recall from previous articles that children of ALL ages learn best through play.
- Model curiosity and vulnerability. Ask your child questions about their areas of interest and expertise. Model being vulnerable and asking all kinds of questions—even if they would be considered “stupid questions.” If your child is into LOL dolls, get curious about LOL dolls. If they are into football, get curious about football. If they are into poetry, get curious about poetry. If they like a certain show, get curious about that show. Model asking different kinds of questions to them (and in front of them). Early on, children learn that when an adult asks them a question, there is an expected response or a “right answer.” When we ask lots of questions, we are showing them that no one knows the answer to everything. We are modeling that it is okay not to know, and most importantly, it is okay to ask “stupid questions.” Essentially, we are teaching them that asking questions does not make you stupid. Rather, asking questions shows you are curious and makes you wise about many things.
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