Ask, Don’t Tell: 23 Questions For A Misbehaving Child

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Why Did You Do That?

No one likes to be challenged about their mistakes.  It is human nature to get defensive and argumentative when questioned. The brain seems to shut down with a “why” question.  For example, can you remember as a child being asked a question like, “Why did you spill the milk?”  Do you remember just staring at your parent blankly because the question seemed to beg the answer, “Because I am an idiot”, and no one wants to give that answer.  Why questions usually are accusative.

Ask, Don’t Tell

It is tempting to teach children by lecturing, but if we take the position of genuine curiosity about your child’s viewpoint; we can create an attitude shift. Look for the HOW and WHY instead of blame and shame. Curiosity Questions help a child process the event and draw their own conclusions. A child learns best by self-discovery.


  • Tone is important, interest and caring and be conveyed through your voice
  • Slow down when you ask the questions, it will calm you and the listener
  • Don’t ask the questions when you are upset
  • Inquire from your heart
  • Ask only one question and then sit back and quietly listen

 Curiosity Questions:

  1. How do you feel about what happened? (Listen)
  2. Are you satisfied with the way you handled the problem? (Listen)
  3. You’ve told me what your friend think is right, I am curious to hear what you think is right/good? (Listen)
  4. How did this experience feel in your gut? (Listen)
  5. I am interested in your ideas, how you saw the situation and what you expected to accomplish? (Listen)
  6. Sounds like you have put some thought into this, I would like to hear what things you have considered? (Listen)
  7. You’ve got some pretty strong feelings about this; what is that like for you and how are you handling it? (Listen)
  8. What are your thoughts/feelings about the situation? (Listen)
  9. I’m interested in your ideas, what are you thinking? (Listen)
  10. I think you are right, that it would be easier AND I’m wondering what would be meaningful or valuable to you? (Listen)
  11. Did it go the way you had hoped or planned, how do you feel about that? (Listen)
  12. It sounds like you are getting a lot of ideas and opinions from other people; I would love to know what is important to you? (Listen)
  13. You matter to me and what you think and feel matters—what seems right (or good) to you? (Listen)
  14. I trust you, what decision seems right to you? (Listen)
  15. I believe in you, how would you like to proceed? (Listen)
  16. I can see why you made that choice, it makes sense to me; I’m not sure that it matches your values; how do you feel since making that decision? (Listen)
  17. I love you and I am concerned about what is going on; I am hoping you will think about it some more. (Listen)
  18. You are loved by me and God, no matter what but I am worried about how things are going—how are you? (Listen)
  19. What was our agreement or family rule regarding this behavior/situation? (Listen)
  20. Is there anything else I don’t understand? (Listen)
  21. What have you learned from this? What would you do differently next time? (Listen)
  22. You are my son/daughter and that will never change; you will always have a place in our family; can you feel our love and acceptance? (Listen)
  23. How can I help? (Listen)

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it will promote kind respectful relationships and a life time of self-management skills for your child.  Keep practicing, gentle inquiring questions improve all relationships not just in parent child situations.

Camille Foster/801.472.7134/

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(Thanks to Dr. Jane Nelson for the curiosity question concept.)