As a parent, you ask hundreds of questions per day. Do you want more juice? Are you hungry? Does your head hurt? Did you poop in your pants? Did you hit your sister with a stuffed bear? Where did you hide my car keys? Were you up all night texting? Did you forget to do your homework and get a zero for the assignment? Did you clean your room as I asked? Did you tell your coach that you couldn’t make practice tomorrow? And of course, the most famous question of all….ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?
Let’s face it, parents take the cake when it comes to nosiness and question asking. In fact, most parenting experts recommend and actually encourage parents to ask as many questions of their children as possible in order to stay in tune with their life and feelings. So you ask questions often one after the other in the hopes that your child will give you the answers you are looking for. Sometimes, you even ask questions that you already know the answer to, just to see if your kids are honest. And yet, 90% (Okay, more like 98%) of the time – the questions are answered with some long, drawn out, incredibly creative yet indefinite answer that leaves you more confused and frustrated than you were BEFORE you asked.
Seriously folks, how hard is to answer a simple question? And how many times do you find yourself saying in a voice that resembles Darth Vader on steroids, “Answer the question….I want a YES OR NO answer!!!!” (Which probably just makes your kids cry)
Why is it so hard to give a yes or no answer? In linguistics, asking a yes or no question is called asking a polar question. Some language experts believe that HOW parents choose to ask the question makes a big difference to HOW children answer. If children feel threatened by the question and think that they might get in trouble if they answer honestly, chances are high that you will get everything BUT a yes or no answer. If you walk into the bathroom and see toothpaste all over the mirror, instead of asking your child, “Did you smear toothpaste all over the mirror,” to which you already know the answer – ask them “Why did you smear toothpaste all over the mirror?” This way, the child understands that you already know the answer….and they are less inclined to lie or make excuses.
For young kids, linguistic experts recommend that parents offer a choice with every question that they ask. Rather than say, “Do you want juice,” ask them, “Do you want apple juice or grape juice?” And they recommend refraining from asking rhetorical questions. If you know your toddler did something wrong – then rephrase your question so the truth is already assumed. Offering a choice when asking questions enables parents to ‘cut to the chase’ so to speak and can help you avoid the long drawn out and colorful answers that kids are prone to giving.
As kids get older, asking questions can be even more difficult. Sometimes, the coveted yes or no answer is not enough and prompts your child to be incomplete in the information they share. Psychologists encourage parents to start asking straightforward yes or no questions and then to delve deeper into your inquisition to get more complete answers. Teens, notorious for keeping information from parents will feel confident that their YES or NO answer, is sufficient when the truth is it’s not really what you are looking for as a parent.
Often times, when kids (or people in general) skirt around yes or no questions it is because they know the answer is going to cause dissention among the inquisitor. For this reason, parents need to be sure that they ask questions in a fairly even tone. If you tend to raise your voice when asking a question, you illicit an emotional response from your child that will cause tendencies of deception. In other words, they already know that you are upset or frustrated, and they don’t want to upset or frustrate you further by giving the ‘wrong’ answer.
Even adults have difficulty answering questions honestly with a simple yes or no. The reason for this is simple. Most people tend to design their answers to questions after what they think another person wants to hear. If your spouse asked you if you want Mexican food for dinner, you might answer with a statement such as, “I don’t know – what do you want?” Essentially, this means that you don’t really want Mexican, but you also want to respect the wishes of your spouse. Asserting yourself and saying yes or no based on what you really and truly feel takes a certain level of self-confidence and self-esteem. This is true with kids or with adults. For this reason, one of the greatest gifts that you can give your child is the ability and the freedom to answer questions honestly. As a parent, you might not like the answer you receive – but you are at least providing your kids with the ability to be honest, and this should be duly noted in your communications with kids.
The desire for a yes or no answer, simple and straightforward is something that every parent seeks from his or her child from time to time. There are many times when you simply have to tell your kids from the beginning of a conversation that they only have two choices and one chance to answer a question. Say, “YES or NO – did you clean your room?” If they try to give you a story, be short and quick to point out that the answer is a simple yes or a no and be committed to accepting no less.