The hardest parenting lesson I had to learn was to stop telling my kids what to do. It was much easier for me to bark out orders than to let them figure things out on their own. Doing so took time and patience, neither of which I had in abundant supply when my daughter and son were younger.
And the net result of that were two kids who relied heavily on me to tell them what they needed to do, when they needed to do it, and where they needed to be. They had become expert direction followers.
One day, I came to the realisation that they needed to take some ownership. But in order for them to do that, I’d have to change my behaviour. Familiar with the Hamilton soundtrack? Aaron Burr gives this advice to Alexander Hamilton: “Talk less. Smile more.” My parenting tip is a variation on that: “Talk less. Ask more.”
By talking less and questioning more, I have compelled my children to listen, think and solve problems on their own. Through some trial and error, both as a mum and as an academic and life coach for teens and college students with ADHD, I hit on the right questions.
“What is your plan ... ?”
“What is your plan after dinner/this weekend/to study for your maths quiz when you get home from soccer so late?” Asking this question helps your child begin to develop a sense of time. For the most part, your child lives in two worlds: the “now” and the “not now.”
They have a very difficult time making the connection that what they have to do later (in the day or the week or the month) can and should affect what needs to be done now.
This lack of “future awareness” is one of the hardest concepts to teach and one of the hardest to learn. It is the essence of time management. This question is an organic way for children to begin to formulate routines and schedules and remember what they need to accomplish in the process.
“What do you need to do in order to ... ?”
This question helps your child build visual checklists for responsibilities such as getting ready for soccer, getting ready for school or taking out the trash. Another great one is “What is the first step for starting your science project/studying for your test?”
If a child is picturing the whole picture all at once, they might feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. You might also ask “What are your priorities today?”—a question that requires the brain to do some heavy lifting.
For younger children, use specific language to help them see what is in front of them: “What do you need to do in an hour/before dinner/after rehearsal?”
“How are you going to remember to remember?”
Are you going to write it down? Take a photo? Text it to yourself? The list is endless.
“What could possibly get in your way?”
This question helps your child to foresee potential barriers and plan ways around them. Perhaps they must finish their project this weekend, but their little brother will be having seven friends over for a birthday sleepover. How will they work around this?
“What does ‘done’ look like to you?”
I love this question because if you have a child that has a hard time initiating, it helps to look at the end product and build a roadmap to get there.
Finally, “Tell me, what do you know?”
Deploy this anytime they say, “I don’t know” in response to a question. This gives you a starting point.
In other words, by asking instead of telling, you’re requiring your children to do some problem solving. Do this consistently, and you all will begin to reap rewards—more skill building for them, less exasperation for you.