Larry King once said, “The person who asks the questions controls the conversation.” I was over forty years old before I learned this very important secret. Conversation does not come easily to me; it never has. But when I heard this secret, I began to listen better so that I could ask a connecting question.
Once I went on a one day journey for the church, and it required spending the day with someone I was not comfortable being with. I prayed for help and for the right questions. I asked two questions that took the whole day for my friend to answer. At the end of the day we found that we enjoyed one another’s company.
Ask questions; then ask the right questions, the probing questions.
My next challenge was to bring this home to my own relationship with my kids. Paul David Tripp (The Age of Opportunity ) helped me do this by teaching four or five key questions to ask our kids. These questions help us to evaluate a situation and to train our kids to think through things with a godly mindset.
Here is my revised list of four questions with brief comments:
1) What happened?
Getting the facts is a key. It may require listening to more than one person; it may be that you can only get one side. Nevertheless, as much as possible, try to get your child to explain what happened. That is safe territory for him and usually this question gets him going.
2) How did you feel?
Younger children might need your help to identify how they felt, but this step is important. When you seek to understand a person, acknowledging their emotions validates them as a person. I didn’t get this for a long time. I remember telling my kids, “It doesn’t matter how you feel; just do the right thing.” But I was wrong; it did matter how they felt because they were people and not machines.
3) What did you do?
“Nothin’.” “I said a bad word.” “I hit him in the mouth.” “I told all of my friends not to talk to her anymore.” Whatever the response was, we must give our kids an opportunity to express it. Saying it may help them see whether or not they responded rightly. Saying it can serve as a confession. Admitting their response opens a door for the Holy Spirit to begin to work in our child’s heart.
4) How does God see it?
This is a training question. Taking the opportunity to discuss together a godly response to a tough situation is a parent’s duty—“bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When you have listened to your child, he is much more likely to be receptive to you, opening the way for you to introduce him to a Biblical truth.
After these four questions, there may be a need for follow-up with some other tools from your parenting toolbox.
I urge you to try out these questions this week. Look for a time when your child is upset, or when they need advice. Listen first, using these four questions:
How did you feel?
What did you do?
How does God see it?