This is one of my favourite (and most useful) parenting tips. Anyone who has had a relationship with someone around the age of three to four has experienced the “twenty questions” exercise. This seems to be a common trigger for parent frustration and irritability, but why? Why does this bother us so much? They are talking, they are asking questions, they are engaged, they are focused on whatever they are pondering at the moment. Isn’t this what we are always looking for? Well I think that’s part of why it makes us frustrated. I actually think it makes us panic. We feel like we need to teach our children all about the world, listen to them intently and with patience and then respond thoughtfully. That is ideal but life is rarely ideal and these repetitive questions can come at some very inopportune times, like while your fighting your way through traffic or possibly looking for your child’s shoe, while running ten minutes late. Identifying why they are asking the questions can help satisfy their need quicker and more effectively. These are the types of question series I notice most often.
The run on question
This series occurs when a child has experienced a provocation. Something has sparked a flame in their mind. It’s now shooting off fireworks and provoking a flurry of questions. One question leads to another and leads to another. By answering with fact, you may actually be hindering the expansion of their thoughts around the subject. Try asking them questions and talk about your feelings instead of trying to give them all the answers. Seeing yourself as “the keeper of all right answers” is quite common in our society but it’s just not true. None of us have all the answers and telling someone else an answer isn’t always the best way to learn anyway. So when your child is onto “but why does the horse wear a coat with no arms? Aren’t his elbows cold?” You can say “hmm, I don’t know. What do you think? How would you feel if your coat didn’t have arms?”
The repeat question
The repeat question usually means the child is not satisfied with the answer that was given. Either they did not understand the answer, they don’t agree, or their question was not validated. Go ahead and validate their question then say “I don’t know. What do you think?”
The monthly question theme
Often children become intrigued in one subject for about 2-6 weeks approx. During this time, parents can feel as though they are constantly talking about and answering questions in regards to the topic of the month. In this case, help your child to engage in research. Empower them to do their own research. Go to the library, get books on the subject and next time they ask you a question say “I don’t know. Did you check the book we got from the library?”
The “I need to connect” series of questions
Sometimes children will just start asking a bunch of random questions, usually when we are busy. They have learned that questions almost always elicit a response. They use this simple strategy to try and connect with their parent. Just take 5 minutes with them. If you absolutely can’t, explain that and spend 5 minutes as soon as you can. I often babywear when my children need to feel connected to me but I am super busy. You will likely find the questions stop or slow down once you become attuned to them.
We get so focused on teaching our children EVERYTHING, we forget that children don’t listen as much as they watch. They watch what we do and they watch how we respond to them. Encouraging them to learn is about asking them questions and supporting their ability to find their own answers. It’s also a lot easier than continuing the seemingly endless game of repetitive questions.
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