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Parents … are you an asker or teller?

Father with his little son repairing carThe way you communicate with your kids is vital to being a successful parent and will have a vast impact on the skills they develop over the years.

Asking better questions is a skill rarely taught in traditional education and yet it can prove to be one of the greatest gifts you bring to your role in that it enables your kids to develop more confidence, resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, responsibility and motivation as well as the ability to make decisions.

Every parent wants their kids to develop these skills and questioning is a simple yet profound way of communicating that can unlock this potential in them!

Are you an asker or a teller?

Why do we tend to ‘tell’ rather than ‘ask’?

As human being we typically do too much telling and not enough asking and, while I acknowledge that as parents you undoubtedly have to tell sometimes, it is always interesting to invite some honest self refection around this. Please note that ‘telling’ includes the more subtle act of giving advice and making suggestions and with this clarification, it is rare for anyone to disagree with the idea that we do too much of it.

I think it is important to acknowledge that we shouldn’t be too surprised by the fact that we more typically ‘tell’ given that during our lifetimes we have probably had some significant ‘telling’ role models such as, our own parents, teachers and managers or bosses

If telling is the natural response that is role modelled to us, then it is no wonder that we will more naturally practice doing this as our habitual response style when our kids ask for help or advice. So starting to become aware of your natural style means we can’t help but start to catch ourselves in the act which then creates a platform for us to choose to change what we are doing.

How do we become ‘askers’?

My suggestion is that when you are asked for help or when you want your child to do something start asking them questions to engage them in the process of finding a response.

Ask a question that creates the opportunity for your child to think about their own ideas, to articulate their own thoughts and to take responsibility for making a decision. All too often well-intended parents take over and make decisions for their kids (I often refer to this as rescuing), who then learn to be passive and reliant on Mum or Dad, which means they don’t tap into their potential and build confidence.

Questions also allow your child to bring their creativity to the table as well as for the answer to be their own, which usually means they will be more motivated to carry it out because its their idea!

An example of when and how to ask questions

One parent, an ex-teacher, decided to use some better questions with her 5-year-old son during a long car journey. As they were travelling, he became curious and asked a question: “Why are there lights on the road?” She realised that she would ordinarily go into ‘telling/teacher’ mode and give an answer to her son, but decided instead to ask, “Why do you think there are lights on the road?.

She stated that making this learning into a game was much more fun than simply telling, and that whilst it did take longer, it passed the time on the journey much more quickly! She said that sometimes it was necessary to provide hints to encourage her son’s thinking, but that generally he worked the answers out for himself.

She reflected to me that as an ex-teacher she had never really given any thought to the way she responded to questions and, as such, would always ‘tell’ in response to her kids’ questions. Quite touchingly, she advised that after this fun learning experience with her son she will always think twice about what is the best approach to take, and she realised that asking can also be a very powerful way for him to learn.


Becoming conscious of your natural style, then has to be a great starting point on the journey to asking better questions because once you acknowledge your natural style you can make a conscious choice to change.

Start reflecting on the responses you make to your kids when asked for help and see what you notice about yourself – are you an asker or a teller? Happy reflecting!

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One comment so far -

  1. Depending on the age of the child I may do both I like to make sure my child understands the answers I give. Also I tell them what I am doing sometimes to encourage them to learn new skills and also to encourage communication.

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