5 Great Questions You Should Ask Your Kids

Parents tell – it’s what they do. That is until they stop doing it.

For so many of us, we think our job as parents is to tell our kids how to be in life – what to believe, what to do, how to live and on and on. For some reason we think we have our kids’ answers in how they should show up to their world.

The only person who has a perspective about what makes a great, happy, successful and responsible life is ourselves – me for me, you for you, your kids for your kids. Our greatest job as a parent is to help our kids figure this out so that when they decide to move past high school, they have sorted this out and have some clarity on how to meet their world and be happy, successful and responsible in it.

Telling Is Not Asking

If you tell, tell, tell – you don’t help your child, then teen, then young adult – learn how to process, think through the options and choose wisely for who they are. If instead, you ask, ask, ask, you create the environment for your kids to think about and share their thoughts, talents, passions and interests. You both become more aware of what is different, unique and amazing about each of your kids. They gather this information as they sort through their answers to your questions.

Your kids need this information to identify where in today’s world they fit – what career, job, focus and work needs what they do and love best. You need this information in order to know how to help each kid develop into his/her greatest self and find his/her unique way.

The starting point to helping our kids tune in to who they are is to get good at asking more than telling (I like to think that parents tell and coaches ask – so become more like a coach). Here are 5 great (coaching) questions to help get your kids to talk to you, and in the process, help them start to think about themselves and through the events of their lives to discover and develop the clarity to find out who they are and what they want to do in life.

5 Great Questions To Ask Your Kids

  1. What are 3 things people applaud you for?
  2. What was the last thing that didn’t work out the way you wanted – what could you have done instead?
  3. I see that you are struggling with this – what is something that has worked in a previous situation like this that could help you out now? Or, what’s another way to look at this?
  4. If you could spend part (all) of today doing what you love, what would you do?
  5. What do you think is the greatest or most amazing thing about you? How did you discover it and how do you feel knowing this?

You can see that there are thousands of other questions that are in line with these information-gathering and thought-provoking questions. The idea is to get them thinking and talking. So much less of this happens if you come at them with only directions and instructions – you do all their thinking for them.

As our kids age, they need to take their unique and amazing brains out for a spin. Asking questions is the greatest way for them to discover what great abilities they came packaged with (they didn’t get an owner’s manual so you have to help them discover this by helping them see it). The more you ask, the more they think. The more they think, the more information they discover about who they are and what in today’s world fits them. If you do their thinking for them, when it is their turn to show up to the world, they will not know how to make good decisions to be happy, successful and responsible in life.


Sometimes The Best Thing A Parent Can Say Is Nothing

Parents tell. It’s what we do. We have been on the planet longer than our kids so we think we know what they need and how they need it. Over-parenting – our parents did this. Their parents did this. It’s easy to see why it still happens.

And I’ll agree that there are times when telling is important. These include keeping our kids safe, developing a sense of right/wrong and values, and giving them some grounding in beliefs. We are their first line of defense, solution and encouragement – at least when they are young.

But as they grow I am more of an advocate of the mantra: stop telling, start asking. Asking engages our kids – it gets them involved in thinking about their perspectives, ideas, thoughts and values. It helps them become aware of what abilities they have – the tools they will rely on to make it through life.

Telling and over-parenting doesn’t help your kids

A critique of many educators is that parents tell and do too much for their kids. Over-parenting creates kids who are unable to solve, assess and think for themselves – their “superparents” swoop in to help them with homework, activities, decisions and most other things. We don’t do our kids any favors by trying to eliminate all the strife and challenge from their lives. We do a better service by training them how to solve what the world sends them – to tap into their abilities, use their brain and figure things out.

Sometimes our kids need us to say nothing

I think there is one more level of improved parenting. What if the best thing we could say as parents were nothing – to let our kids sort through the information all by themselves instead of with our continual guidance, commentary and input? Great that we move from telling to asking, but what if sometimes we just stopped all the talk to give them the attentive space, encouraging them with our presence and supportive body language, to let them work on their challenges on their own to develop resilience and awareness of their own success abilities.

See, many times our kids just need uninterrupted time to sort through their ideas – to listen to their own voice – to keep working uninterrupted in order to get it on their own. As parents, we seem either be uncomfortable watching them struggle or are not good with the quiet and we jump in to help them. Too much helping can make a problem for them in the future – they don’t learn how to stick with something, figure it out and rely on themselves. They can always request help, the way we can always say, “Give it another couple of minutes and see what you come up with.”

Sometimes being a great parent is letting them work through things and remaining quiet. We don’t have all the answers – or their answers. When we create the space for them to solve things on their own, they quickly learn that they are capable and do not need to default to parental aid. They don’t see this as an option if we always are guiding, commenting or telling them what to do.

What a gift we give our kids when we learn how to shift from telling to asking, and from asking to staying quiet – to allow them as they grow to handle the things in their lives. Sure, it takes time to decide which response is right. But I have learned that whatever your default behavior (most likely it is to tell), try to ask and try to just stay quiet. Notice it. Try it. See what happens. You will see your kids discover their talents and use them to build their confidence. This is what it takes to get them ready for life.

When To Parent, Coach Or Mentor Your Kids

Consider this

You can parent, coach or mentor your kids. Said another way, you can tell, ask or share with your kids. All of these are available to help you guide and support your kids as they find their way in the world; which do you use and when?

Most parents are in “parent” or tell mode for most or all of their kids’ lives. You see older parents still telling their middle age kids (who are parents themselves) what to do, how to do it, who to be, how to make decisions. Tell, tell, tell. Most of this is because we think that telling is good parenting.

But parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity. It requires awareness of both what tools are available and when each tool works best. And if the tools of parenting are to parent (tell), to coach (ask) and to mentor (to share), when do you use each?

The place for parenting or telling is most useful when our kids are younger and we are helping learn how to show up to and be safe in their world. We set rules to keep kids safe and to help build character (studies show that character is built by age 11). Our kids, unfamiliar with our wild world, need our guidance in how to learn to show up in this world – so telling is critical until they learn and have the wisdom they need.

Once this is in place, it is more effective for everyone involved for parents to shift to coaching – to asking. What makes coaching different is that is based on asking empowering questions. Questions shift the interaction from one directional, to two directions. Questions engage and require the party being questioned to think, decide and own their thoughts and actions. A question opens up possibilities.

Telling is for you, asking is for them

The greatest advice I offer parents is to get in the habit of stopping themselves as they start to speak and reframe their “telling” into a question. “Get your homework done” now becomes, “What is stopping you from completing your homework?” “Don’t aggravate your sister” becomes “How do you think it feels for your sister when you constantly tease and aggravate her?” Telling is for you. Asking is for them.

Simply by asking a question, you engage your child into a discussion. They are now responsible and accountable to explain their understanding, actions, behaviors or whatever prompted the question. They now learn to make meaningful choices because they will be accountable for their decisions.

Additionally, asking questions encourages a more significant relationship. When you ask questions, you engage and interact differently. You give your child attention and interest – they feel more involved and cared for than just hearing orders delivered at them.

From parenting to coaching

Notice that as our kids age, we shift from parenting to coaching – from telling to asking. Our relationships have a greater chance of success as we involve our early teens into conversation by asking questions. This way of connecting with our kids lasts most of their lives. Over time, I find that we do one more shift – from coach to mentor – from asking to sharing. This is where our kids start to ask for our help, guidance and information. They invite us to share what we know about things – they are now ready for the information. They now ask the questions and look to our experience to accelerate their learning and progress.

Parenting, coaching and mentoring – are all tools to successfully help our kids discover and live what is great in them. We need to assess which of these works the best for each of our kids, and when, with the intention of helping them grow up to be the leader of their own lives – confident, competent, clear about their abilities and showing up big to their lives. Notice when you tell, ask or share; choose the one that works the best for you and for your kids.