Our brains are amazing organs that give us the ability to do marvelous things, including the ability to speak and communicate effectively with each other. Most parents have a part of the brain devoted exclusively to lecturing kids about doing the right thing, eating the right way, doing their homework, and making sure their chores are done. For most adults, this part of the brain remains dormant—until we become parents or teachers. As a parent or teacher, have you ever been amazed at how easily and automatically a good lecture rolls off the tongue?
One of the fundamental principles of physics is that every action has a reaction. This principle can also be applied to our lecturing. When lecturing starts, kids immediately react by shrinking their learning and listening abilities. Indelibly etched into my memory is the little first-grader I lectured about his chronic hall-running. “You could slip and get brain damage,” was the theme of my speech.
We can learn much from our mistakes as well as from those made by others. Over the past thirty years, we’ve noticed that successful parents and educators understand the following concept:
The more words we use when kids are misbehaving or acting irresponsibly,
the less effective we become.
Instead of lecturing, successful parents and educators have learned to ask open-ended questions instead. Kids test us to see if we will love and accept them regardless of what they may do. When we ask open-ended questions, three important and powerful things happen.
First, open-ended questions show others that we can and want to understand their viewpoint. Second, these questions encourage people to do plenty of thinking. Open-ended questions create a lack of closure deep within the psyche. Humans yearn for closure and they sort of go nuts when they don’t have it. Even when our kids don’t answer our questions verbally, their subconscious minds can’t resist the urge to give them plenty of thought. Finally, it gives us the opportunity to listen, to demonstrate that we understand, and to express empathy. Some examples of open-ended questions include:
- What do you think about how you’re doing in school right now?
- What are your ideas on whether bikes, like your new one, ever get stolen?
- What are your thoughts on kids experimenting with drugs?
- How do you think some kids put themselves in danger while chatting on the internet?
Listening to our youngsters’ opinions—even when they’re silly, strange, or downright scary—dramatically increases the odds that they’ll listen when it’s our turn to speak.
Think about it—do children have control over whether they listen to us, even when we don’t give them this control? You bet! Do stubborn kids know this? Yep! Whenever we pretend to have control over things we clearly do not, it erodes their respect for us and creates a battle they cannot resist.
Some of the best opportunities for listening instead of lecturing occur when kids do the unexpected. For tips on how to handle these situations, listen to our audio, Oh Great! What Do I Do Now?
Thanks for reading!