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Let’s begin with a fun quiz for Purposeful Parents!

  • In which hand does the statue of liberty hold the torch?
  • On a standard stop light, is green on the top or bottom?
  • On which side of an open book are the even-numbered pages, left or right?
  • In what direction does water drain in your bathroom; clockwise or counterclockwise?
  • Grumpy, Sleepy, Dopey and who else?

So, what do you think? Did you need to google any answers? What do these questions have to do with parenting? Other than the fact that they provide a fantastic set induction to a blog about the power of questioning, absolutely nothing.

Providing opportunities for learning

I have been a long time believer in what used to be referred to in educational circles as Discovery Learning. It has since taken on new titles— Inquiry-based Learning, Problem-based Learning. Whatever you want to call it, it remains a powerful instructional technique. This is because it is based on a widely accepted psychological premise— Humans are most motivated to learn when they are curious. And, one of the best ways to elicit interest and curiosity is to as a thought-provoking question.

You may argue that the questions above were not particularly thought-provoking. However, you read them and each one conjured a conceptual memory which is evidence of thought. Regardless of the speed of retrieval, you needed to think in order to respond. This then is the aspect of Discovery Learning that should be of greatest interest to parents. Most people are aware that whenever we choose to offer advice, explain, or give a lecture, whether it be to a child or an adult, we have no way of knowing whether our message is being received or not. We can’t know for sure if the ‘receiver’ comprehends, agrees, disagrees, or if they are even tuned in to our station.

Anyone who has a friend who loves to offer unsolicited advice is very familiar with the ease with which one can feign interest. With a simple series of nods, and verbal affirmations like ‘Ah hah,’ and ‘ Oooh,’ and an occasional ‘Oh really?’ we can pull-off being a highly interested listener with ease!

Yes, the receiver is in a very powerful position. He/she can listen … or not and if you do not ask for feedback, you the sender may never be the wiser. Many children become masters of feigned interest very early in life. (Our schools are designed to provide ongoing opportunities for children to sit still and listen!)

If we as parents want our children to learn and if we want to provide opportunities for them to evaluate, analyze and create, wouldn’t it be helpful to get THEM to do the thinking? Perhaps it is time to add the ‘Skill of Questioning’ to our parenting toolbox.

Inquiry can be used to satisfy any number of objectives, including:

  • To learn more about our child’s interests and concerns.
  • To have a better understanding of their perspective and thought process.
  • To show appreciation for budding individualism. And …
  • To allow them to practice thinking about and correcting any behaviors that do not serve

How about a quick strategy to deal with the last objective mentioned: Dr. Frank Alessi taught me the value of using ‘The Snap.’ That is a series of questions designed to promote self-reflection and correction without requiring any direct criticism from another person. Sounds like it could be complicated, doesn’t it ? Well, it’s not; it’s a snap!


The next time your child makes a choice that is in direct conflict with, let’s say, a rule you have in your home, you can use questions to help them out. You may be familiar with such declarative statements as,“Hey, I told you not to do that!” or “Cut that out!” These will no doubt get results.

But, in order to both illicit thought as well as empower the child, let’s consider using a question instead: “Hey Buddy, what are you doing right now? (Self-recognition of behavior) “And what is the rule about jumping on furniture?” (Recall and evaluation) “Can you follow the rule? (Recognizing ability) Finally, “Will you follow the rule?” (Decision making regarding an expectation) Then, you walk away showing that you trust their ability to make a decision.

Now you have their attention and they have to think! This is purposeful parenting! Even if a child chooses to come back at you with a wise comment, guess what? They HAD to think. And most parents who ask a question with kindness and in a calm manner can expect the same in return. If not, parental persistence is the key here.

For most of us, telling is just so much easier than asking and there are times when telling is more appropriate. But I promise you, once you become familiar with the effective uses of questioning you will be grateful for the many benefits. There are some general guidelines to help parents develop this skill and if you are interested in learning more we can help get you started.

Feel free to contact the Purposeful Parent at

In closing, I do have one caveat to share— Effective questioning is not as simple as just morphing a declarative statement into a question with the use of a why, how, what, where, etc. For example, there is little difference between telling someone they are an idiot and posing the question, “WHY are you such an idiot?” I share this because I have talked with parents who just couldn’t figure out why this questioning strategy wasn’t getting the results they expected. Ha!

You, dear friends, have been advised! Until next time …
Yours in Positivity,

The Purposeful Parent

About the author

Kate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015.  She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.

In 2016 Kate published a book intended to help reduce ‘pre-sleep’  anxiety experienced by many of her students.  The book: “The Best Thoughts to Think— Five Minutes Before” has quickly become a beloved bedside sleep guide for people of all ages.  The book offers six simple techniques to help dismiss negative thoughts and replace them with positive thinking.

Today, Kate is busy giving presentations to schools, businesses, community groups, and all who are eager to learn how to help people and groups tap into their full capacity by learning to trust their brilliance more than their doubts.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.