Stop asking Why
and Start asking What
Your 10 year old crashed her bike into your new car.
Your toddler threw his toy at the puppy.
Your son whacked his sister over the head with his toy train.
And you say…
“Why in the world did you do that?”
This question assumes your child was thinking, and odds are there was no thinking going on at all.
We use this phrase to get more information but all we end up getting is more headache. I guess we assume this phrase will cut the perpetrator some slack, let him have his chance to tell his side of the story, or help him come up with a good excuse for being nasty. By opening up the conversation with questions about the child’s “thought process”, we set ourselves an emotional debate.
Let’s think this through…
Is it debateable that his brother deserved a whack over the head? Maybe.
BUT if we stick to the WHAT we can focus on the behavior and not the emotions that caused the behavior.
Simply put… WE DONT HIT… even if our brother annoys us.
There is no need for you to focus on:WHY he did it.
If we really want to know why they did it, simply ask more WHAT questions instead of delving into the WHY. The WHAT questions will yield more of the info you need as they help you gather the facts.
Start with these FACT collecting questions :
WHAT HAPPENED (to your brother, to the car, to the puppy)?
WHAT HAPPENED FIRST, SECOND, THIRD?
WHAT happened just before?
WHAT happened just after?
WHAT were you feeling just before?
WHAT were you felling just after?
WHAT else could you have done when you feel ______?
WHAT are the house rules?
WHAT can you do to show you are sorry?
WHAT are you going to do next time?
WHY questions lead to excuses, emotions, tattling, debate, finger pointing and zero resolution of behavior. They also lead to waaay too much conversation and we lose our children in the language. Parents and children may end up fussing and screaming at each other and a second layer of yuck enters the scene.
When you stick to the WHAT questions it helps the parents work through this without getting accusatory and emotional. They stay matter of fact:
“I love you I can’t stand what you did” (to your brother, the car, the puppy).
It also allows parents a chance to actually hear the child and may help you pause enough to give all sides and perspectives of the story. The WHAT questions lead to the facts, the problems, the solutions, the alternatives, and they help our kids learn to rewind, restart and regulate their choices which might help them when this situation arises again. And unfortunately we all know it will arise again. Remember their growing and so are we…