You Don’t Need to Have All the Answers

Kids ask lots of questions.


Many parents tend to get caught off-guard, overwhelmed, or irritated by the never-ending string of questions that bombards them every day.


But kids are so curious because they’re constantly learning new things about themselves and the world around them. Asking questions helps them gain a sense of control over their lives.


Naturally, kids look to their parents as the all-knowing authorities on life. And unfortunately, parents often put tons of pressure on themselves to have all the answers so their children continue to see them in this light. But as Levi-Strauss said, “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”


Try turning your children’s questions around and asking them: “What do you think?” Not only does this develop critical thinking skills, it also fosters the relationship between you and your child as you talk and explore answers together.


Often a straightforward answer to “why do I need to brush my teeth?” won’t satisfy a child, but asking, “Why do you think you need to brush your teeth?” can spark an entire conversation that not only brings you closer together, but strengthens your child’s learning and bolsters his confidence about what he already knows.




There are several other ways you can use questions to nurture your relationship with your child:


1) When your child accomplishes something, rather than just praising him by saying, “Wow! That was great!” ask, “How were you able to do that?” Your child may or may not be able to answer this, but he’ll feel pride in himself and satisfaction that you’re interested in him and his accomplishment.


2) Rather than coming up with all the consequences for your child’s behavior, ask him, “What do you think the consequence should be?” You might not take his suggestion, but it can be helpful to hear what he thinks. Also, giving him some control over his own consequence makes it more likely that he’ll accept and abide by it. Many kids will choose a consequence that’s too lenient, but there are others that dole out harsher consequences for themselves than their parents would. If you feel your child’s suggestion is too harsh or too lenient, let him know that, and then use your judgment to determine what logically fits the situation.


3) Invite your child to learn from her mistakes. When your daughter slips up, avoid blaming and shaming. After all, everyone make mistakes…that’s how we learn! Instead, you might ask, “What’s another way you could handle that?” or “What could you do differently next time?” 


Resist the urge to give her your opinion or lecture her. To govern herself, she needs to know what she thinks and feels, not what others think she should. She needs to trust her own thoughts and feelings because ultimately, they will guide her through life.


4) Help your child develop her intuition. When your child faces a decision in which she needs to weigh her options, ask: “What does your gut (instinct) tell you?” Learning to trust her intuition (and therefore herself) is an important skill that’s often ignored and suppressed by adults. When kids learn to trust their intuition, they’re better able to make decisions they feel good about, and avoid making ones they’ll regret.


5) Encourage your child’s resourcefulness. When your child comes to you about a problem, rather than immediately telling her what to do or trying to fix it for her, ask, “How are you going to handle that?” or “What can you do?”  or “What are your choices?”


6) When your child is struggling, you might ask “What would help make this easier for you?”  or “What do you need right now?” Don’t assume to know what your child needs. It may be different from what you would need in the same situation. Ask.


7) Don’t automatically assume you know why your child is asking something. There may be an underlying question or concern. For example, if your son asks, “Do I have to go to school?” you could say, “Why do you ask?” If you jump right in with, “Well, of course you need to go to school!” you may be overlooking some important information.


8) Finally, when talking to your kids, you never know what else you might learn just by asking, “What else?”  or “Is there more?” A conversation might seem complete to you, while your child still has a burning question or one more thing she wants to share, but is unsure how to express.


In addition to asking these questions, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know” when your child asks you a question. You can tell him, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you” or “That’s a great question. Let’s find out the answer,” and call a relative with knowledge on the subject or look it up.


Bottom Line: You don’t need to have all the answers. No one does.


What’s been the most challenging question your child has asked you? How did you handle it? Do you feel pressure to have all the answers? Are there other questions that would be helpful to parents that I forgot to include? Leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation going…


For a hilarious video about how comedian Julia Sweeney answered her eight-year-old daughter’s questions about the birds and bees, click here.


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Showing 4 comments
  • Helen Butler

    Great ideas Pam! Our son is 9 and one question I’m asking a lot at the moment is “How would you solve that problem?”. It’s starting to work!

  • Julie Marah

    Great article, very helpful. As a fellow coach I love the idea of using questions to help my kids find their own answers! Thank you.

  • Kelly

    I absolutely love these great examples of what we can say when kids ask us questions. I will write them down on a post it to remind me – until they become my natural responses. Thank you Pam!

    • Pam Howard

      You’re welcome, Kelly. Glad you found them helpful. I like your idea of writing them on a post-it and keeping them handy until they become second-nature. Let me know how it goes!

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