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Parenting: Childhood

Asking Questions Rather Than Giving Commands

I came across the above cartoon recently. It was my second reminder of a helpful parenting strategy that I think reinforces biblical values. I was inconsistent in using it, but when I did it bore wonderful fruit. And it resulted in a more peaceful home.

The strategy is simple: respond to a request by asking the child to remember a family rule or principle.  Or ask a question to remind them about what they should be doing.

For example:
“Mom. I’m hungry. Can I get some chips?”
“What is our rule about snacks between meals?”
“We only have fruit or carrots between meals.”
“Ok, well there’s your answer. Would you like some slices of apple?”


“Dad, do I have to go to bed now?”
“What’s your bedtime?”
“Well, it’s 8pm so you know the answer to that question.”

This technique can be used to encourage our children to be responsible without a direct command.  It is an easy way to provide a reminder.

“Hon, I noticed you left your toys in the yard after you played outside.  What are you supposed to do when you are done playing?”
“Put them away.”
“That’s right. Why don’t you go do that right now.” 

This appeal to rules can also be seen in a good way as our cartoon shows us. While Grandma’s rule is no candy before dinner, Grandpa’s rule is to bring him a piece also. That will be my rule someday!

There are multiple benefits to asking questions like these.
1. Jesus often used questions to teach and remind.  Questions can sneak past our natural defenses and cause us to think more deeply.

2. Questions appeal to a higher authority. Mom and Dad, in their calmer moments, have established rules that are there to bless the family and to give it order. Everything in the family is not up for grabs. In the moment, we are simply reminding our children. Mom and Dad are not being capricious.

3. This appeal to outside authority also inculcates more self-control in our children. It trains their conscience. They know what they are supposed to do in a certain situation. They may not do it. But they know what they are expected to do.

4. It also forces Mom and Dad to come up with principles. Often anger in a family is the result of not establishing enough outside family principles. When a question comes up, rather than acting randomly, Mom or Dad ought to think, “What is the principle here?”

Don’t feel the need to ask questions all the time. There are certainly occasions for direct commands and correction. And there are times for direct answers of yes, no, or more information.

But establishing family routines and rules and then reminding our children when they forget should be a frequent tool of every wise parent.

[Comic from Pickles, by Brian Crane]