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The Art of Asking

By Linda Sapadin

Wouldn't it be nice if you could start off this school year with a fresh approach to dealing with your kids' responsibilities?.

One of the best ways to do this is to learn the art of asking. Asking better questions - and listening to the answers - indicates that you value your children's opinion. You begin to trust that they may have good answers that you never even considered.

The #1 complaint of older kids is:.

"All they ever do is ask me: 'Did you? Did you do your homework? Did you clean your room? Did you write that report?' They don't really care about me. They care about what I do."

Before you reflexively say "No, that's not me," or defend yourself by saying, "How else can I teach my kid responsibility," think about it.

Yes, it's a parent's job to teach a kid responsibility and to check up on what he's doing or not doing. However, there are better ways of achieving that goal than a constant barrage of "Did you, did you, did you." Here's one way to improve your asking technique...

Change closed questions to open-ended ones.

A closed question is one that requires a "Yes" or "No" answer. A parent's dream answer: "Yes, I finished my homework, I cleaned my room and I did extra-credit work." In the history of the universe, nobody except a perfectionist kid (and that's another problem) will give you that answer.

A typical kid's response will be: "Yeah, I did it." (This may be the truth, a partial truth or an out-and-out lie.) Or, "I'll do it." Or, "Get off my back." None of these is an invitation to a sparkling relationship or a guide for developing responsibility.

An open-ended question, in contrast, tends to elicit thought-provoking answers. It often begins with the words "What?", "How?" or "When?"

"What could you do about it?"

"How will you deal with it?"

"When will you make time to focus on that?"

Though you may initially receive an "I don't know" grunt to these questions, give it time. If you are changing your approach from "Did you..." to open-ended questions, your kid will need some time to get used to it. You may help the process along by saying, "Looks like you don't have a lot of time for your homework. How do you think you could restructure your time to give you more time for what needs to be done?"

An open-ended question compels the conversation to become less about your answer and more about listening to your teen's answer (no matter how lame you may think it is.).

Why should you listen to your teen's answer when yours is clearly better? Because encouraging your teen to come up with his own answer builds the "responsibility muscle." Responsibility, after all, is having the "ability to respond." Reflect on that for a moment.

Open-ended questions tend to develop thinking while minimizing rebelling. Asking, "What could you do about that?" encourages your teen to decrease his dependence on you and increase his accountability for his own life.

An added bonus: Asking open-ended questions and listening to the answers helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect. We all want our opinions to be known, appreciated and respected. So, don't be surprised if this new way of communicating improves your relationship with your teen over a period of time.

Copyright, Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her at or visit her website at

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