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Asking and answering questions made simple

Image: www.lorenstow.co.za
Most parents can agree that it is incredibly frustrating when your baby or toddler wants something but can’t communicate what it is… You don’t know what to get them or do for them, and they get increasingly frantic… Another example is when you know that your child knows something, but when you ask them a question about it, all you get is a blank stare, like when you ask your child to show you the blue crayon and all of a sudden they can’t.

    With this in mind, we thought it would be fitting to do a post on how to teach your child to ask and answer questions. It is not as difficult as it sounds and is based firmly on encouraging your child to take part in his day-to-day activities while giving him a running commentary of what’s happening and why.

    Other than the obvious benefit of being able to understand what your child wants, teaching him how to ask to questions will also boost his confidence, help him to learn more about what’s going on around him in his world, and eventually increase his social skills.

Learning to ask

The process of teaching your child how to ask questions is, as with everything else, an on-going ‘dance’ that will continue well into adolescence, but you can get started from about the age of 21 months.

Question skills generally follow a typical order as follows:


2 yrs             Q: Yes/No     Eg: May I go?
2yrs              Q: What       Eg: What is this?
2 ½ yrs         Q: Where      Eg: Where is my shoe?
2 ½ - 3 yrs    Q: Who         Eg: Who is that?
4 – 5 yrs       Q: Why         Eg: Why is he crying?
4 – 5 yrs       Q: How         Eg: How did you make that?
5 – 6 yrs       Q: When       Eg: When is she coming?

“What” and “Where” questions develop first because at that stage a child is typically more interested in the names and locations of various things in their world. The “Why” and “How” questions develop from age four because this is when children start to think in more abstract terms. And the “When” questions develop after a child has learned a concept of time.

Why do some children struggle to ask questions?

There could be three reasons, and if your child is struggling at all it may be a good idea to see which area could use some attention. In order to ask a question your child needs to:

1. Know how to put words together to form questions
2. Have the thinking skills to think of something to ask
3. Trust that the other person is going to react positively

Encourage your child to ask questions

• You can start by modelling the behaviour and showing your child how people think about certain things, and then answer your own questions, for example “What is this? A feather!” or “What are we going to do next? Close the door!”

• Give your full attention when your child is asking a question, get down to their eye level and be patient, allowing enough time for the question to be asked.

• Answer your child’s questions – when you do this your child knows that they have been successful and their self-confidence is boosted.

• If you don’t understand the question, ask your child to repeat it or to try and show you. If your child hasn’t asked correctly or hasn’t used words, repeat their question in a simple, correct way and then answer it. For example, if your child points at their juice on the table you can say, “You want your juice? Here, mommy will get your juice for you.”

Learning to answer

The ability to answer questions develops at roughly the same rate as the ability to ask questions, and it’s a good idea to meet your child where they are at. So, if your child is asking “Why” questions, then you can assume that he can answer “Why” questions as well.

    The best time to ask questions is when you and your child are engrossed in an activity together. Wait and watch your child and see what his attention is on, and then ask a question about that. Make sure you have your child’s full attention before asking the question and allow your child some time to answer the question, creating a calm and accepting atmosphere.

    As a parent, it’s important to ask your child questions, but don’t overdo it and become like 00-Mom/Dad… It is all too easy to dominate the conversation. Try using questions to discover what your child is thinking and what he knows so that you know how to relate to him, rather than turning the conversation into a test or a lesson.

    And don’t forget, questions like “You know what?” are your child’s way of getting your attention so that they can share something with you – so respond with interest and love, and most of all have fun!

The Practica Team
parents who know better... do better


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