03 August 2012

Evergreen "answers" to your kids' questions

Preorder at Amazon: Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient KidsI'm all about teaching my kids life skills. Ever since our year-and-a-half-long experiment with home schooling, I've come to see that "teaching" looks like leaving my kids alone to figure things out for themselves.

One of the beauties of parenting older kids is that you can reasonably expect them to think through solutions to many of their problems. The trick is remembering to do it. When you're in the habit of tying the shoes and zipping the jackets and making the lunches, sometimes it takes a friendly reminder that guess what? Your kids are old enough to do that themselves!

Some kids relish responsibility and independence and are natural self-starters. Mine seem to be perfectly content to let someone else pick up their laundry or remind them to do their chores. I say that without sarcasm...they honestly think that's my role because I haven't done a good enough job educating them otherwise.

Well! No more. For their good and mine, I'm delegating the job of thinking to them. Here are six "answers" to kids' questions that will remind them that the best answer is theirs to find.

See if you can figure it out.

This is my default answer when my kids ask me to solve a relatively simple problem or puzzle that they're capable of solving themselves. Say, reaching a glass on a tall shelf, or opening a tricky package. Also useful during homework.

Perhaps they won't get it on the first try, but that's the point, right? They need to get used to trying, and then trying again until they figure it out. (I stop short of intoning "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.")

That brings up the all-important detail of tone. If not delivered with a light, neutral tone, this can sound snarky or sarcastic, and that complicates the whole exercise. If your kids detect a hint of judgement or false sing-song, this sounds more like criticism (See if you can figure it out, lazybones!) than an honest invitation (You're a smart kid who's up to the challenge. See if you can figure it out.).

[10 seconds of silence.]

My second-favorite answer. A bit manipulative, but I think in an acceptable way. When my kids ask me a question I KNOW they can answer in about five seconds, I find myself out of hearing range for about ten seconds.

Kid: Mom! Where are the scissors?

Me: [shuffle, shuffle, lalalala I can't hear you, busy shuffling these very important papers.]

Kid: Mooom? Do you know where the scissors are?

Me: [shuffle, shuffle, eight-one-thousand, nine-one-thousand...]

Kid: Never mind! Here they are!

What do you think?

What makes you say that?

How are you going to find out for sure?

Bryan (@princeofwands) contributed these three. I love these answers. Not only are Bryan's answers more neutral than mine, they invite a conversation. He playfully added, "...though I'm even more fond of (and my kids hate) 'What do you expect *you* to do about that?'"

How would you solve the problem?

About this answer, Erin (@erdoland of Unclutterer) said "I'm like a broken record how often I say it." The great thing here is that the questioner not only gets an opportunity to find an answer, but also the opportunity to think about how he will find an answer. Subtle but useful distinction.

What's your best open-ended "answer" to your kids' questions?

One of the central points in Minimalist Parenting is the importance of shared family responsibility -- that everyone including the kids can and should take on bits of the family to-do list. When more than one brain is on the job of managing the moving parts, *your* brain gets a chance to renew itself.

I'm also excited to tell you more about Duct Tape Parenting, the forthcoming book from parent educator and fellow Bibliomotion author Vicki Hoefle. More soon, but in the meantime, isn't that a great cover illustration?

RelatedHow do you teach helpfulness while promoting responsibility?

More: About Minimalist Parenting

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Love this topic! A common response from me is: Well, what do you think?

My son is the kid who wants to know everything, and now. So when he asks questions that really deserve an accurate answer or that I don't know the answer to, we look them up immediately. Having technology at our fingertips means he can learn about anything he wants when desire hits.

I use "What have you tried?" That way they know not to start asking until they've made an attempt to solve things first.

Oh I like "What have you tried!" I use "you tell me" a lot.

Sometimes I answer, but in a roundabout way- such as "what places have you already looked?" or "look in three places before you answer me again". They get angry when I try the "be a problem solver" answer, but I still do it and try to make them really try.

Our issues are about the sibling relationship these days, so often I'm asking them "what is another way you could say that?"

One of the most talented professors I have ever met told me that silence was one of the most important approaches in the classroom.

He said, "Ask a question, then wait a minute for a response. If no one responds, then wait longer."

I then noticed all the times he (and other successful teachers) used silence to motivate thought and discussion. It's amazing how often it succeeds.

When they're tattling, I've been asking, "What would you like me to do about it?" They're usually at a loss.

I like open ended questions myself because this is how I learn best. I think parents have to be responsive to their own child's leaning style. While you cater to a child's dominant learning style, you also have to encourage their growth in styles that they may not prefer.

As they grow older, no one is going to take the time to answer many of the questions that kids ask. When they become adults, some of the answers they receive may even be misleading. Parents must start them off on the right foot by teaching them to discover answers for themselves.

Even while kids use sources such as the Internet to find information, they must evaluate the accuracy of this information themselves and not trust everything they read, hear or even see.

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