Another important tool for parents that we have learned from Pope Francis is the use of questions in our parenting. In his interview with an atheist, when asked a question, Pope Francis responded with a question on several occasions. We, as parents, can learn from this. Questions are frequently the best response initially to a question or challenge from our children for several reasons:
- First, asking a question in response to a question helps a parent to clarify the question so that we answer what is really being asked. A friend of ours shared a story when their 10 year old child walked into the room and asked him “What is sex?” Instead of initially answering the question, our friend followed with a question – “Why do you ask?”. The child responded, “Well, I’m filling out this form for school. There is a section that says “Sex” with an “M” and an “F” next to it. Which one do I check?” Without asking the question, he might have begun to tell the young boy about the birds and the bees long before he was ready and when he really wasn’t asking for the information anyway.
- Second, asking a question helps our children learn how to begin to think like we think. Ultimately, as parents, we want our children to be able to think critically about situations in which they find themselves as they grow older. We should hope that thought process contains some semblance of our way of thinking. One way to help form our children in our way of thinking is to answer a challenge to one of our decisions with a question. For example, our older son loves to play X-Box. We frequently struggled with him with regard to limiting the amount of time he spent on it. During that struggle, this 16 year old would respond with a challenging question like, “Why does it matter to you how long I play? I’ve done my home work. I’m not interfering with anyone else. Why can’t I play as long as I want?” Now, we could have responded with citations from research regarding the effects of too much video game exposure. Or, we could have answered with the always popular “because I said so!” Or, even better, with the punishments that would come his way if he didn’t obey. All of which we have used before. However, the most effective response over time was to ask him, “Why do you think that we’re concerned about this?” or “Which would be easier for us, to let you continue playing quietly and not bothering anyone OR to be having this discussion?” While these questions led to lengthy discussions, they also helped him begin to internalize our thought processes.
- Third, asking a question can help diffuse potential discipline issues. Sometimes Mass, particularly with younger children, can be a source of discipline issues. Instead of correcting the children in the middle of Mass, this week ask your kids this question – Can you help mom and dad come up with the 10 commandments for Mass? We did this when our children were young and the results were amazing. Often the “commandments” they came up with were more strict than ours. In fact, sometimes we needed to actually tell them that they were a little over the top. As parents, we directed the process, including asking them why this rule was a good rule and why that one may need to be changed a little. Once we came up with these 10 commandments we worked on putting them on a piece of paper that came with us to Mass. On the way to Mass, we would go over them together. They loved it because these were their rules, their answers to our question. As a result, they tended to follow them. By doing this, we avoided or at least limited the number of problems we had in Mass.
So, next time, learn from Pope Francis. Ask questions of your children. You may be amazed at the results.