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To Question or Not to Question: That is the Question!

As a Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) Therapist, I work with children ages 2.5 years to 7 years old who exhibit challenging behaviors and their caregivers. In PCIT, caregivers learn ways to strengthen the bond with their child (and let’s be honest, sometimes that bond can feel a little strained when kids have behaviors they struggle to manage). This bond is strengthened by the caregiver spending five minutes a day of one-on-one “special time” with the child using therapeutic play skills that therapists use to help kids calm down, focus and manage their emotions.

The therapeutic skills caregivers learn and apply in PCIT include skills to use during their special time, as well as things to avoid doing and saying. One of the things we ask caregivers to avoid during their 5 minutes of special time with their child is asking questions. The reasons behind avoiding questions are:

A question asks for an answer from the child

Asking a question takes the lead of the conversation away from the child (the goal of special time is to let the child lead both the conversation and the play)

Asking questions can suggest that you aren’t really listening

Sometimes questions are really hidden commands (Would you like to clean up?)

This instruction is often met with a little bit of disbelief. Caregivers tell me that they ask their child questions to make conversation, to know what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling, and to get important information from their child. I’m going to let everyone in on what the caregivers I work with have learned: questions actually have the opposite effect! Questions actually restrict conversation and can sometimes even shut it down. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. Questions can also increase anxiety for many kids because they are expected to provide an answer. Instead of asking questions, I want to give a few conversation prompts to stimulate conversation without asking questions. These prompts are effective when talking with kids or teens.

Instead of asking: “How was your day?” Say: “It looks like you’ve had a long day.”

Instead of asking: “How do you feel?” Say: “Your eyes look so sad.”

Instead of asking: “Did you bring that paper home from your teacher” Say: “I know I need to sign that form your teacher mentioned.”

Instead of asking: “Was your English test hard?” Say: “I was thinking about you during your test.”

See how your conversations flourish when you avoid asking questions! I will warn you-it’s simple, but not easy!

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