The late American radio and television personality, Art Linkletter, captured the hearts of millions of Americans 40 years ago when he tried something on television that no one else was doing — asking children questions. He carved out a niche for himself and drew upon his audience’s fascination by giving children the microphone for a change while the adults sat back…and listened. Bill Cosby followed suit on his similar television shows. Linkletter, sort of the “Oprah” of his generation, summed up his motivation for quizzing kids in his book, Kids Say the Darndest Things!: “There’s a vast gulf between the world of children and our own. And every time we bridge that gulf — even if it’s only for a moment — we recapture some of the freshness and spontaneity that make life worth living.”
Questions are one of the most effective, and perhaps underused, tools found in a parent’s toolbox today. Just five minutes of expressing interest in your child will do more to build your relationship with them than five months of trying to get them interested in you. If you’re like me, however, you find it easy to get stuck in the gear of telling your kids what they should do — telling them how they should do it and when they should — instead of taking the time to ask them meaningful questions. To most of us, it seems parenting means telling, not asking. Despite that tendency, I’m finding I cannot force wisdom upon a child; rather, it is something that must often be drawn out.
Just five minutes of expressing interest in your child will do more to build your relationship with them than five months of trying to get them interested in you.
Without a doubt, parenting does involve imparting. You cannot visit the parenting passages of Deuteronomy 6 or Ephesians 6 without catching the action verbs of child-rearing, such as “impressing,” “loving,” “training,” encouraging, and “comforting.” However, much of parenting could be better described as, not merely imparting, but drawing — drawing out from within the heart of your child. Questions alone do that best! A great question draws upon openness, honesty, cooperation, and friendship. King Solomon put it this way: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Prov. 20:5; emphasis mine).
Ambassadors use questions to build bridges of diplomacy between countries oceans apart. Teachers use questions to build bridges of learning to their students. Husbands, to build intimacy with their wives. Managers, to cultivate teamwork and productivity among employees. The wise parent will use questions to bridge the generation divide with their child, whether en route to the nursery school or on the way home from a high school soccer game.
Questions are invitations. As clearly as an invitation opens the door of your house to a friend to attend a birthday party, bridal shower, or backyard barbecue, questions invite people in. They construct an atmosphere of interest that draws upon the hidden resources and needs of the soul.
7 Incredible Benefits
There are at least seven reasons why a parent should always have a ready supply of strategic questions to ask their children:
1. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS SHOWS YOUR CHILD THAT YOU ARE GENUINELY INTERESTED IN THEM. It is never enough for a parent to merely say “I love you” or “I really do care about you.” Taking a few moments to consider just what your son or daughter needs to talk about is a great way to practically love them. When a parent cares enough to think through and, with a well-suited question, patiently tap whatever may interest or concern their child, they open more than a conversation, they may open a soul.
2. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS ASSURES YOUR CHILD THAT YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT WHAT THEY THINK AND HOW THEY FEEL. We tend to trust people who are tuned in enough to our needs to be concerned about them and who respect us enough to hold those sacred trusts in confidence. Parents have an unparalleled opportunity to do both. I’ve found that questions strategically aimed at real needs and feelings within my children are virtually impossible for them to ignore; they are irresistible. Once their interest is tapped, they almost have to respond.
3. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS CULTIVATES YOUR CHILD’S OWN SOCIAL SKILLS BY MODELING. Every child, teenager, and adult for that matter is ill-prepared to face any social activity or responsibility in life if they are not equipped with a supply of great questions. This is especially true is our technology-saturated culture. Parents who ask their children great questions not only strengthen their own parenting influence, they strengthen the relationship skills of their kids. Learning how to ask great questions is something that everyone can learn to do. This experience alone can save children of all ages from needless days, if not months and years, of uncertainty, loneliness, and insecurity in social settings.
4. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS ALLOWS YOU TO EXAMINE JUST HOW MUCH OF YOUR TEACHING AND TRAINING AS A PARENT IS TAKING ROOT WITHIN YOUR CHILD. We can spend so much time “pouring into” our children’s lives; it makes sense to take some time to see if they’re actually embracing any of it and in what ways.
5. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS ALLOWS YOU AS A PARENT TO BRING FOCUS TO YOUR TOGETHER TIME WITH YOUR CHILD, RATHER THAN WASTING THAT PRECIOUS TIME. I find that just as important as securing significant blocks of quality time with my kids, is making sure I seize the spontaneous moments here and there with them that tend to fill up a day. These bits of time can add up quickly. It helps me to think of them as the “teachable moments” or pockets of together time when I am available and they are hungry to interact. These include…the ride to school in the morning, the last-minute trip to the grocery store, standing in line at a check-out stand, half-time at a football game, tucking them into bed at night, etc.
6. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS GREATLY ASSISTS YOU AS A PARENT IN ACCURATELY DISCERNING THE REAL EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF YOUR CHILD. It is risky, and probably presumptuous on my part, to assume that I know what my child’s greatest needs are today, as opposed to yesterday or a month ago without asking them questions. Great questions help a parent get a fresh sense of what is going on in their child’s life, their interests, their doubts, their fears, their dreams, and what’s on their minds.
7. ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS CULTIVATES CLOSENESS & CONNECTEDNESS BETWEEN A PARENT AND CHILD. Considerate questions not only draw insights from within a child, they draw a child himself closer to his parent. They slow us down in our much-too-busy lifestyles and build bridges of interest that often turn to feelings of closeness and authentic connection.
Take time today to ask your child a great question.
Dr. Robert C. Crosby
President / CEO
Dr. Crosby is the President/CEO of Emerge Counseling Ministries. Prior to this role, he has served as the Vice President of Southeastern University and as Professor of Practical Theology in the Barnett College of Ministry & Theology. He holds a doctoral degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a PhD from Regent University.
Dr. Crosby and his wife, Pamela, are the co-founders of Teaming Life, an organization that equips couples and families to thrive. Their newest book together is The Will of a Man & The Way of a Woman: Balancing & Blending Together. They conduct services, seminars, and conferences on topics related to pastoral health, wellness, marriage, and team-building.