Language Development

Practical Tips on How to Teach Your Child to Ask Questions

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Practical Tips on How to Teach Your Child To Ask QuestionsIn my post yesterday I gave you some background on why your child finds it so hard to ask questions.

It was a bit complicated, I know, but I hope you weren’t discouraged, because there are some easy tips you can use to help your child develop a healthy curiosity in everything around her. In fact, these are the exact same methods I used over the last several months to help my foster daughter, who was severely delayed, learn to ask questions.

I actually caught myself the other day telling her, “NO MORE QUESTIONS” – at least for the next 15 minutes or so. (Okay, I wouldn’t recommend that, but hey- it was a really looooong day :)).

The tips below are really more than tips: they are alternate ways of speaking and acting with your child that will radically affect your child’s ability to question. I guarantee that if you use these methods a few times a week, you’ll see a significant improvement in your child.

Model asking questions

Asking questions might seem like a skill that comes naturally. After all, even babies and young children do it, albeit with gestures or facial expressions. However, we can not only teach our children how to ask questions, but we can teach them how to ask good questions.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is by modeling this skill for our children. There’s no need to conduct a scientific experiment in order to do so, however. There are numerous occurrences throughout the day that are great opportunities for sharing with your child the joys of why. Here are some tips on how

Create absurd situations

In order for your child to know how to ask questions, he first needs to notice that there is something unusual about the situation. You can help your child do this by using objects in ways they weren’t meant to be used, or putting them in places they don’t belong, in order to spark your child’s curiosity.

This works well for many children with language delays, since they usually have good visual memories (in contrast to weak auditory memory) and often remember where an object should be, who it belongs to, or what it should be used for – even if they don’t have the words to express themselves.

  • For example, when it’s time to put the groceries, take the milk, and put it in a cabinet. Look at your child with a surprised look on your face, and say “I wonder if I can leave the milk here.”

Even if they seem unperturbed, continue by asking your child, “Does milk go here?” If they have a hard time answering, give them a clue, “No, the milk goes in the refrigera-“ and let your child fill in the blank.

Then ask your child to put it away where it belongs. As they put it away, say with an exaggerated tone, “I see; if I don’t put it here it will spoil.”

One important thing to remember is that there’s a difference between asking questions, and knowing the answer to those questions. There’s no reason why you should expect your child to know or even remember the answers to the questions you ask.

This process of questioning is a lot like brainstorming, where your goal is to encourage as many questions as possible, without self-consciousness or censure.

That’s why the second part where you say why the milk can’t go in the cabinet is less important than the moment when your child looks at you with a question in his eyes. That look of “that was strange, Mommy” is what you’re after.

  • Try “accidentally” putting on your child’s shoes. Look bewildered as you try and fit it on your foot, and ask yourself while your child looks on, “I wonder why it doesn’t fit?” Then examine the shoe, examine your foot, measure one against the other, and look confused.

(Think of it as an audition for the clown act in Barnum and Bailey Brother’s circus).

Treat failure as a learning opportunity

Some parents rush in to correct their children when they see disaster occurring. Even when there’s no possibility of someone being hurt or something being damaged, these parents worry their children will feel badly about themselves if they experience failure.

In reality, failure is a lesson. It’s an invaluable opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Plus, it’s intimately connected to learning how to question: your child sees that something they anticipated didn’t work out as expected. Now they need to ask themselves, “why did that happen?”

Personally, I know how hard it is to watch a child fail, or even struggle. I’ve seen my LD children struggle over numerous things, and I’m not sure if it gets easier with time. I can say, however, that allowing my children to fail –even just a little bit- is key to their success. As Jonathan Fields says in his book called Uncertainty, the fear and doubt we experience when we worry about failure can serve as fuel for brilliance.

Why not let your child shine?

So next time you see your child headed for a mistake, stop. Step out of your role as a parent, and think of yourself as a coach. You don’t always have to warn your son or daughter about what “might” happen. Often, the natural consequences that occur are enough to teach your child what to do. If not, help your child use problem-solving in order to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

Are there any specific instances where you feel stuck teaching your child to question? Leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help you out!


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  • Rachel Oct 10,2012 at 10:51 am

    Hi Nikki!

    It’s no wonder you have an amazing little girl… sounds like you’re pretty special yourself!

    Things WILL definitely get better. It helps to keep in mind that when you look at your daughter, you’re only seeing a work in progress. Personally, I make sure to remind myself that I don’t have to complete the whole journey at once; I just need to take the next step.

    Good luck to you and your little girl!

  • Nicola Greenhalgh Oct 10,2012 at 10:28 am

    Hi Rachel,

    I would just like to say thank you so much for your website I have only just found it after looking through numerous other websites that have been simply daunting to me yours is the easiest to understand with fantastic practical help too.

    My daughter has just turned 4 and has a delay in communicating/language and has never asked any “why” questions but like Rebecca’s son above she asks lots of “whats that” and “where are” questions. She has just been referred for speech therapy after being told for the last 18 months to just “give her time” by our GP and the staff at the nursery she attended.

    Finally after starting in Reception class at her new school her teachers have noticed the difference between her and the other children in her class and have brought in a psychologist to assess her so I’m happy she’s finally getting some help but I want to do as much as I can at home to help her also so I’m going to get started straight away with the information and tips on your website.

    I’ve been feeling as if I’m in a “hopeless” situation lately so seeing that there are other children/parents out there going through the same thing has reassured me that things CAN and WILL get better! Thank you so much.

    Nikki (mother of an amazing little girl)

  • Rachel Apr 17,2012 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Rebecca! There’s plenty more on this site to help you: do a search for “language development” and “hands on learning games,” and you’ll find plenty of info and hands on learning games.

  • Rebecca Apr 16,2012 at 7:25 am

    Hi, I just wanted to say thanks so much for your website – i have only just found it! I have an almost 4 year old son with a language delay. He is seeing a speech therapist, but sometimes its hard to get all the answers I need in a 1/2 hour session once a fortnight. He has never asked a why or how question. Although he is asking plenty of “whats” or “whos”. I am going to use some of your ideas and hopefully start getting a few whys!

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