The Best Words

My daughters have some amazing parenting skills but one of my favorite phrases has to be, “Use your words…” Words seem to put an end to sighs, sounds signaling objection and pouting. When they are able to get their children to speak instead of sulk, everyone is happier. It also signals that this parent is ready to listen to what their child has to say.


One of the best ways to use our words as parents is to ask questions. Have you ever noticed your children slipping into lala land when you began one of your favorite speeches? You might be lecturing too much when you hear your children finishing your sentences.

Questions open our minds to think. They cause curiosity to dominate the brain rather than rebellion. Besides, if we don’t try to tell them everything, they are more ready to listen when we do slip into speaking mode occasionally.


Wording an effective question is an art. You know the answer you will get to the proverbial, “How was school today?” question. Try asking a thought question. Dr. Charles Fay of Love and Logic suggests, “What do you think about how you are doing in school?” Avoid asking how they feel instead of what they think if you want a useful answer. Asking how they feel only opens the door for the same one-word response, “Fine.”


Another effective time for a good question is when they are about to do something risky. One example would be when you notice that they intend to take that expensive hand-held game to school with them. It is tempting to give your pre-prepared speech about kids who lose valuable items at school. Why not begin with a question? Try asking, “What do you think happens to items that get separated from their owner during the school day?” Or try, “Do you think there are any kids at school that don’t mind taking things that don’t belong to them?” And don’t forget to let your children live with their own consequences. Losing an item they value will teach much more about taking things to school than any lecture or question.

We often receive the same set of rolled eyes to our questions that we get when we give speeches. Don’t worry. A question has a way of haunting their subconscious mind when they aren’t looking. Curiosity will bring the question up at a later time in the recesses of their minds when we aren’t around to hear their arguments. They may think of our question over and over during the day. I’m pretty sure they don’t rehearse our speeches that way.


The next time you are tempted to give speech number 67 to that nagging behavior you’ve seen over and over in your children, try a question instead. You can even ask open-ended questions that will give both of you the opportunity to discuss life’s important values or hidden dangers. Let the power of a good question open the communication between you and your child. A speech never did that.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families Ministry.