Preaching Less and Asking More Questions: Outsmarting Your Teen into Learning The Lessons They Need to Learn

Posted: July 17, 2012 in For Parents and Guardians
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Many of us speak, lecture and preach too much. We often let our fears, arrogance or ego-driven needs to be seen as wise or in control compel us to talk way more than is helpful.  When we talk more than we listen, we often silence the voices of the children we want to understand better.  When we talk more than we listen, we may end up feeling better about ourselves or relieved that we expressed what we wanted to express… but the children we supposedly want to empower end up feeling disconnected from us. When we talk too much, our kids and students are not challenged to think more deeply about who they are or why they do what they do, and as a result, their growth is stalled.

Asking questions instead of preaching puts the responsibility on the young person to think about their actions and reflect upon their emotions. It compels them to see the disparity between their words and their actions… which is necessary for growth.  When a young person is challenged to become more conscious of their thoughts, needs, motivations and emotions, they can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for poor or unhealthy decision making and they can no longer blame others for their actions.

Asking questions doesn’t show an absence of authority… it shows a different kind of authority that emphasizes their development more than displays of our power. If we can let go of our needs to fix things quickly, control behaviors immediately, or assert our authority decisively, we can promote the kind of development in our children and students that we all wish for… and all we need to do is ask more questions.

Ask more questions and …

  • Your stress levels and worries will be drastically reduced because you’ll know and understand more and you’ll feel less confused and in the dark.
  • You’ll hear the answers you’re hoping to hear… or the thought-processes you need to correct.
  • You’ll promote self-awareness by compelling them to think and put words to their thoughts and feelings.
  • You’ll promote skills of articulation and constructive communication.
  • You’ll learn something new about your child that you should probably know.
  • You’ll help them feel less lonely and more understood.
  • You’ll have fewer power struggles because your child will feel more respected and heard and your authority will be more respected for inviting them to speak up for themselves in constructive ways.
  • You’ll have fewer conflicts because they can’t accuse you of abusing or misusing your power.
  • You’ll decrease the frequency of excuse making and lying because they’ll start to see that the answers they’re giving aren’t as logical or believable as they think they are.
  • They won’t be able to blame you for not understanding because you’re asking them to explain.
  • Your child or student will end up seeing the errors in their judgments because they’ll be put in positions to hear their own excuses and immature thinking.
  • They’re more likely to learn lessons because they will get to the correction in thinking on their own, rather than us having to force feed them the corrections.
  • They’ll accept your consequences more fluidly because they’ll feel like they at least had a chance to convince you.
  • You’ll accomplish whatever your goal is because by the end of your questioning, they will have figured things out for themselves.

When asking questions…

  • Be as sincere as you can in wanting to understand them… don’t just ask questions to point out how “foolish” you think the child was. Avoid sarcasm (depending on your relationship or the seriousness of the situation)… this can make them not want to talk if they feel like you don’t take them seriously.
  • Avoid the temptation to react emotionally to their answers… this can make them feel like it’s unsafe to be honest and open with you (which is exactly what we want to avoid). If the answers don’t make sense to you or seem irrational… don’t react emotionally, simply ask follow up questions that challenge them to think more deeply about their actions or answers.
  • Remember that you can never ask too many questions… but also remember that HOW you ask the questions will decide whether or not they feel like you really want to know the answers, or if you’re just trying to make them feel stupid.
  • Over the course of your conversations, frequently ask the young person if they understand what it is you’re asking them.
  • After you explain your decision as the adult, always ask the young person to disagree with your decision and to try to convince you that your decision is unjustifed.  This disarms them by taking away their arguments that “we’re not being fair” and we “never listen to their side”.
  • Ask the child to try to convince you that what they did was appropriate or the best option, and let them know that if they can convince you that their way is right, you’ll support them.  This again disarms them, role models listening and minimizes the likelihood of power struggling.
  • After you’ve put thought into your responses and decisions and stated them clearly, ask the young person if they think that what you’re asking of them is “fair and reasonable”… this compels them to acknowledge that you are being reasonable (even if they disagree with you) and respectful and removes the possibility that they accuse you of abusing your authority (unless of course you aren’t being reasonable and are just reacting emotionally, in which case, you might want to take a moment to reflect yourself)

When trying to promote reflection and critical thinking skills in your children and students, make sure your focus remains on helping them move from young to grown and less on asserting your power and proving your wisdom.   Asking questions and listening is far more empowering to young people and our relationships with them than preaching, lecturing, yelling or shaming.  If we do want them to learn from their mistakes as we say we do, then we need to put our ego’s aside, let go of our need to be seen as having all the answers, ask the questions that compel them to think and let them figure things out on their own, with our guidance.

And if you do decide, or can’t stop yourself from unleashing the lecture of all lectures, be sure to try to re-connect with your child at some point shortly after… just to make sure that they, at the very least, were so bored or irritated by your lecture that they’ll never again make the mistake that brought the lecture to their lives.


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