Good Mothers Ask Great Questions

I’ve recently joined the masses who listen to audio books in the car. It’s not a favorite pastime of mine, but as a single mom, I don’t have much, or any, time to read, and I still do want to further my own knowledge about different subjects. More on audio books at a different time. The particular book that I am listening to now is called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell. The premise of the book is great, and as I connect the material to my work, I also cannot help but connect it to my role as a mother.

Having great ideas as a mother isn't always helpful. We need to spend some time asking questions and listening - Nurture Her NatureMr. Maxwell refers to leadership as a role that allows you to add value to others. As moms and the leaders of our homes, it is our role to add value to our kids. And, as Maxwell points out, one of the most effective ways to do this is by asking great questions. Questions allow the person being asked to process material that they may not have thought of. It can help our kids think deeper. It also gives us as moms a little peak inside their heads.

I’ve learned about questioning in two other facets of my life as well: my former role as a probation officer and my current role as a supporter of professional development in the field of education. As a probation officer, I used a technique called motivational interviewing to elicit behavior change. In the world of education, there is buzz about using efficacy statements.

While efficacy statements connect much more directly to parenting, there are some basics in motivational interviewing that are important in the role of the parent. All motivational interviewing centers around open-ended questions and reflective listening. Open-ended questions are questions that allow for a descriptive answer as opposed to a one-word definitive answer. For example, if you were to ask at the dinner table, “Did you have a good day?” you would likely get an answer of yes or no, and if your child had a bad day but doesn’t want to talk about it, you would likely get an answer of yes, leaving you thinking that all is well when in reality it might not be. Asking instead, “What things made your day good today?” will give you much more specific and descriptive information. Here is an important key from motivational interviewing: have an idea of where you want the conversation to go but allow the questions to guide you there. Open-ended questions likely will lead to responses that will give more opportunity for more open-ended questions and more information for you as a mom. Here are some examples of open-ended questions:

Building reflective listening skills will help to gain understanding for both you and your child in the conversation. Reflective listening is about listening carefully to the conversation and reflecting back to your child about what you heard. This both helps clarify for you motives and feelings but also moves your child to think more deeply about what she is talking about and why she did what she did or feels the way that she does. That’s processing and where growth comes from. Here are some examples of reflective listening statements:

  • I get the sense that you may not have been focused on your schoolwork today.
  • It sounds like Suzy really hurt your feelings.
  • It sounds like on one hand you were really mad at Suzy for hitting you and yet on the other hand you hit her right back.

Any questions - the questions we need to be asking our kids as mothers - Nurture Her NatureForming your conversations to look this way is tough and won’t feel natural at first. As probation officers, we would record our conversations and note each time we used open-ended questions and reflective listening statements, challenging ourselves to have more each time. If you put the effort in to add open-ended questions and reflective listening statements, the feedback and processing that you receive from your child will be invaluable.

This leads to questions and statements that build self-efficacy. This line of thinking is huge in the education realm right now. Self-efficacy is the belief that you are able to do, learn, or handle different things. While learning is important, knowing that you are able to learn is more important. Kids are more likely to succeed or handle challenging situations if they believe that they can at their core. This requires a different way of talking about ability and is extremely important in the world of parenting. It is the difference between saying, “You are smart,” and “The way you thought through that problem was impressive.” The first statement leads a child to think she is naturally smart. While this is a valuable piece, it doesn’t cause her to build skill in this area, which can lead to frustration and can cause her to challenge this view of herself when she runs into something that is challenging. The second statement causes the child to internalize that she has good thinking skills. Believing you have good thinking skills increases the likelihood that you will seek out solutions to challenges because you are able to do that well. Here are some examples of statements and questions to help build self-efficacy:

  • You worked really hard to learn how to do that.
  • You really improved at hitting the ball this last game. How did you do that?

As mothers, is it our job to add value to our kids and to help them become successful at whatever it is that makes them happy. The quickest and most effective way to do that is by asking questions. Make sure those questions are great questions by being deliberate about what you want them to do. Questioning should not just give you answers but should help your child grow.


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