The Wrong Question Parents Keep Asking

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The questions we ask are important because obviously the answers that come to us are a result of what question we asked. So, asking the wrong questions gives us the wrong answers, and when we base our reactions, our relationships, our decisions, and our views on the wrong answers, we miss the mark. We end up on the wrong path and wonder why things aren’t working out properly and why it has gotten so hard.

This was the case for me eight years ago when my firstborn was three years old. I, like many other parents, asked one question over and over again. What do I do when

What do I do when my child hits?

What do I do when my child doesn’t listen?

What do I do when he is defiant?

What do I do when he won’t sleep at night?

What do I do when…what do I do when…

It isn’t hard to find answers to these questions. The internet is full of them. Books and magazines are full of answers. Professionals, friends, family, everyone seems to have an answer for the “what do I do when” question, (all conflicting answers, of course) and the answer you accept will determine how you treat your child and the course of action you will take.

When I asked “what do I do when my child is defiant?” and the answer that came to me which I accepted was “put him in time-out,” our course was set. I continued to view him as defiant (because I had gotten an answer that reinforced my belief) and I consistently and continually placed him time-out just as I was told. Of course, it didn’t work. Our relationship suffered and his behavior only worsened. The more I looked for defiance, the more I saw of it, and pretty soon our days were filled with power struggles and tears, and every day I felt completely defeated.

It turns out that time-outs were the wrong answer because “what do I do when” was the wrong question.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, feeling like you are in a constant power struggle with your child and nothing is working the way you thought it would. Maybe your relationship is strained. Maybe you’ve been given the wrong answer because you, too, have been asking the wrong question. Here’s a better question.


WHY is my child hitting?

WHY is my child not listening?

WHY is he defiant?

WHY won’t he sleep at night?

Why is this significant? Because WHY puts your focus on the person. What do I do when puts your focus on the problem. It completely shifts how you see your child and, therefore, how you react.
When I started asking why questions, you can imagine how the answers that came were completely different. The answer to “why is he being defiant?” was “because he feels disconnected.” The answer to “why does he feel disconnected?” was “because he has a new baby brother and it’s a big adjustment for him.” So, he didn’t need a time-out, he needed to reconnect with me. He needed to feel secure and attached. He needed me to focus more on special time with him, and when I did, his defiant behavior disappeared.

It’s not always easy to get at the why, but when we approach issues with curiosity and ask the right questions, the right answers will eventually come, and most often the right answer is connection.

*This piece was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.

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