Quiet Questioning: Let Your Kids Question You Without Being Disrespectful
“Mom, that’s not fair!”
“Why can’t I…..”
“It’s her turn!”
One of the ways that our children begin the disrespect spiral is when we let them “talk back” to us. At first, this can be simply questioning us with a slightly raised voice. But before we know it, it can become full-fledged disrespect. And the more we allow it, the more it happens.
But what is a parent to do when they want kids who are able to talk freely about things? What should we do when we want to build an open, honest relationship with constant dialogue, yet every time our child disagrees with us, it becomes a shouting match?
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the Recipe for Rebellion ingredient of “Rules Without Response.” That is, our children become rebellious towards us when we DON’T allow them to respond to us—but when they do respond, it turns into disrespect.
We found a solution to this nearly thirty years ago….and it has served our family well, allowed us to have super close relationships with our kids throughout their teen and young adult years, and kept communication going without allowing disrespect to seep in.
It was called “the godly appeal” when we first learned of, but I prefer to call it “the Quiet Questioning”—focusing on the fact that we let the child question us—but it is quiet (i.e. in a respectful, permitted manner).
Quiet Questioning is a non-argumentative, non-confrontational way for our children to express their disagreement with our rules for them. It opens doors of communication that would literally be slammed in our children’s faces if we just tell them to “do what I say; I don’t want to hear about it.” It gives our teens more of a sense of control in their lives—and provides multiple teaching opportunities for us (which our teens can, in turn, apply to other situations in their lives).
In Quiet Questioning if a child does not agree with something, he asks respectfully if he may question it.
I even recommend using these exact words, so that you have “key words” that indicate that the child is getting control of himself so you should listen to him: “May I quietly question?”
After the quiet question, the parent gives one of three answers: yes, no, or later. The child must then accept that answer as part of the quiet questioning process (not argue, beg, etc.).
At that time, the parent gives one of three answers: yes, no, or later. The child then must accept that answer (not argue, beg, etc.). If the answer is yes, the question is heard and considered by the parents. Sometimes this is in front of other siblings. Many times it is not, depending on the subject being questioned, who it applies to, and the intensity of the child’s questioning.
If the answer is no, the matter is dropped, though it may be brought up later, when more information is gathered or when the time is more appropriate (i.e. not in the heat of an argument or not when parents are unable to deal with it right then, etc.).
If the answer is later, the child may bring it up at another, more convenient, time. (Sometimes we even told our children that they may question tomorrow or next week when we are not traveling or not in the middle of a big project, etc.)
How to Make Quiet Questioning Successful
There are some guidelines that make quietly questioning successful:
1. If the question is disrespectful or done in anger, it is turned down immediately.
2. If the question is a series of whines and complaints, rather than a truly quiet question, it is turned down.
3. If a child begins disagreeing a lot or constantly trying to question, the question process is terminated for a period of time until that person learns to accept Mom and Dad’s rules more often than not. (More about kids being characterized by cooperation “more often than not” later.)
4. If the questioning process becomes an argument, it is ended.
5. If the person questioning is turned down, but later has more information (“new evidence”), he may re- question that topic.
6. The question is truly listened to and thought through by Mom and Dad. Do not pretend to listen to questions, but not regard your children’s pleas. This is another “Recipe for Rebellion” in itself. (Kids know if the questioning process is just a formality and you are not truly listening to them.)
7. The person questioning is not constantly interrupted by Mom and Dad with justifications. The child should not be patronized during a quiet question, but carefully listened to and respected.
8. Once the answer to the question is given, the matter must be dropped for the time being. Granted, it might need re-visited, but to continue the questioning once an answer is given is arguing, not quiet questioning.
9. Parents must agree on the answer to the question at the time. Later, behind closed doors, discussion between Mom and Dad may need to take place, but in front of the child, a united front is imperative.
Quiet Questioning is a privilege for mature children. It should not be used by children who complain and grumble all of the time. It should not be used as a “formal means” of arguing. (The words, “May I quietly question?,” should not be substituted for the child’s normal means of disagreeing as an attempt to begin “discussion and arguments.”)
A child should have godly character and be characterized by (“known by”) submission and obedience in order to utilize this relational tool. It is an avenue by which children and teens who readily accept the family’s rules may disagree respectfully and be heard.
When discussing these concepts recently with our grown son Joshua (married; thirty-four), it was interesting to us to note that he said that he did not mind our rules—even if he disagreed with them. According to him, the reason he did what we wanted him to do (outside of love—see “Rules Without Relationship” next week) during any of our less-than-rational-rule-time is because no matter what rule we made, what standard we expected, or what behavior we demanded, we always listened to him.
According to him, even if we did not change the rule or expected result, we still let him talk and let him disagree with us (via the quiet question process). He noted that it didn’t matter if we followed his suggestions, just the fact that we were listening to him made all the difference in the world. According to him, we did not give him freedom to do as he pleased when he disagreed with something, but we did give him intellectual freedom–the freedom to think and to question us. That alone made Quiet Questioning in our home so important to us.