Do you wish you could find out what is going on in the heads of your offspring? Do you wonder if your parenting ideas are working? Here is some advice for you, from a timeworn parent who is also a therapist. I have logged many hours trying to help families untangle their issues and rediscover how they can be great together, and I’ve learned one thing – if you ask the right kind of questions and actually listen to the answers, you can get a good look into those heads you love so much.
My system is guaranteed to get you more than the customary grunt that follows a question like “How was school today?” We ask such functional questions as that because we are responsible and they need to be asked. We start with “Where is your little nose?” and progress to “Did you brush your teeth?” move on to “Where is your backpack?” “Is your homework done?” and then to the big ones “Where have you been?” and “Just when do you plan to do those college applications, young lady?” The last is delivered as your heart breaks at the thought of their departure in a few months to parts unknown.
But we shouldn’t stop there. We can open up the discussion by asking even bigger real-life questions that take some thought and have some surprises in them. You may want to set the stage by offering some ground rules – all devices off, everybody gets to be heard, no ridicule.
Then you are ready to pose questions like, “If our family had a motto, what would it be?”
“What is the best thing about being in our family?”
“The hardest thing?”
“What do you wish we’d do more of?”
“What is a good story about our family? What does it tell?”
Your part, after you pose a big question, is to keep quiet and listen, not for what you hope they’ll say, but to what they actually say. Listen, ask for more, without critiquing, arguing, or defending.
It’s amazing what people can say when they know someone important is listening. They may find a voice that you didn’t know they had before you started asking to hear it.