I vividly remember the cold, rainy night our 15-year-old son left a note saying: “I’m too mad to be at home. I’ve left. Don’t come looking for me because you won’t find me. Don’t worry, I’ll be safe.”
Teaching the art of asking good questions is a favorite goal in our daily work with parents. Why? Because we’ve learned that lectures and answers often shut kids down and build walls between parents and their kids, while good questions build wisdom, strengthen connection, and lead to kids taking more responsibility for their lives.
To illustrate this in real life, we’ve invited Joel and Amy to write about their journey to learn to ask good questions and build wisdom with their two teenage sons.
I remember the feeling of cluelessness one day when my husband and I were sitting in a session with our parent coach, Chad.
We’d been learning from Connected Families’ resources about how to communicate to our two teenage sons that they were safe and loved. While we were growing and our hearts were changing, we still had many unsolved problems and felt stuck. After we described an issue with one of our sons during a coaching session, Chad asked, “How does your son feel about it?”
Dead silence. We were totally clueless. We said that we thought he felt a certain way, but really we had no idea. Then Chad asked, “Well, have you ever asked him?”
Questions are a simple and powerful tool. Asked well, questions can open hearts -did you know Jesus asked over 300 questions?.
Consider the question, “What happened?” The lilt of voice, the facial expression, the tone and even the sincerity of the question can either open or close the one you’re asking. Just because there is a question mark following a sentence doesn’t mean it is a good question, does it? There is an art to asking good questions!
There are a number of things to keep in mind when asking our kids questions. Here are a few to consider, in the form of — yep — questions!
What are the best tools parents have to teach wisdom and guide their kids? Questions!
Often times we forget that a simple, well-timed question can help our kids grow and learn much better than a long-winded lecture.
Consider the following benefits of questions:
Recently we received this question from a parent:
Q: How should we respond to our children (middle school, high school and college) who insist there is no God?
My first impulse in responding to people who “insist there is no God” is to show them how wrong they are to hold that belief. I mean, look around, right? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything came from nothing. But “people” denying God’s existence is much different than MY KIDS denying that God exists and turning from their (our) faith. That creates sleepless nights, desperate pleas and crying out to God. It also tends to lead parents into anxious lobbying for their point of view when in fact, there is probably very little new that parents can say.
Aside from the conventional wisdom about this (which we fully embrace) to pray, to speak truth, and to love them, here are some less common ideas that have been shown to have powerful influence with children over time.
Deep inside most parents is a strong urge to control their children. It may seem beneficial or even “work” for a few years, but there are diminishing returns if the goal of control is not given up significantly by the teen years (probably earlier than that).
When we take control of our kids’ lives we often end up making decisions for them that they are capable of making on their own. But maybe even worse, when we take control away from our kids we deprive them of learning that they are capable of making choices and living with the consequences whether positive, negative, or neutral. When we micromanage our kids’ lives they learn that we are responsible for their life, not them.
Charles was almost sure his pre-teen daughter Sara knew she was loved even when she misbehaved. But he wanted his “almost” to be an “absolutely,” so he asked her: “Honey, do you know that you are loved, even when you misbehave?”
Sara answered quickly. “No.” She didn’t justify her answer.
Charles was shocked. After all, he is a loving and thoughtful dad who has worked hard to communicate his love. Yet Sara not only didn’t know it, she was quick in her answer. She decisively declared that she often didn’t feel loved when misbehaving.
The fact that Sara — parented by thoughtful, loving parents — did not always feel loved when she misbehaved is an indication that there are probably lots of kids like her. Unfortunately, even though parents almost unanimously say that they love their kids unconditionally, many of their kids doubt that they are loved unconditionally.
15 year old Dave (not his real name) ended up in my office because he’d been repeatedly caught viewing online pornography. His parents had “done everything we know how to do” and still the relationship was eroding. We often like to work with parents at times like this, but in this case, since Dave was willing to come (teens often are not willing), I agreed to see him.
I quickly heard from Dave what I hear from many teens in trouble with their parents:
I just watched a video from a youth ministry leader. He intentionally stated one reason it’s so hard to relate to teens, and unintentionally stated the real reason.
His intended explanation is that teens are hard to relate to because of the big relational changes that happen as kids move toward independence. The authoritative style of parenting — “you say no and the child doesn’t argue”– used with young kids no longer works, so a new form of relational influence must be learned. More listening and negotiation is needed to empower teens toward independence.
He’s right to say that the authoritative parenting used with young kids contributes to the problem. But he’s wrong to brush over it as if it’s expected to be this sort of parent with young kids.
He’s right about the importance of relational influence. But he’s wrong to say that we should wait until kids are teens to learn to have relational influence.
In our work coaching hundreds of parents of teens over the years, we’ve hit on six themes that draw the parent-child relationship closer. Read through and let us know in the comments below which of the tips you want to implement in your family.