Martha & Greg Singleton

Martha & Greg Singleton


Pulitzer, Socrates, and "Okay, I guess"

“How was school today?”


It was the first day of school here in Texas yesterday, and whether their kids were beginning kindergarten or senior year, most parents were eager to hear all about that first day.

Dying for details, we can be disappointed by the one-word answers, yet we don’t want to drill the kids with annoying, repeated questions.  

Maybe it’s time for one of my favorite lessons from my days as a journalism teacher: The Art of Asking Questions!

Rule number one: Never ask a question that can be answered simply “yes,” or “no.”

Did you have a good day?  Do you have homework? Did you find the $10,000 bill I tucked into your Frito bag?

Rule number two: Questions that begin with “what,” “who,” or “how” instead require detailed answers.

“What was the best part of your day?” “Who did you eat lunch with?” “How do you get to check out library books?”

Rule number three: Wait for the answer. Everyone needs a moment to think of what they want to say in response to a question.

Rule number four: After you get the initial answer, wait, expectantly, a little longer. Most people will need to fill the silence, and will begin to add details, giving you the real answer to your question.

Rule number five: Look the person in the eye, and respond with nods, and smiles of understanding and affirmation as they answer. That inspires them to keep talking.

The wonderful thing about interviewing our children is that the practice grows as they do. Interrogation, which none of us enjoy at any age, gives way to conversation, particularly valuable as they move from elementary to pre-teen and teen years.

Instead of letting information about someone making poor choices and suffering consequences at school turn into a parental lecture, make it a teachable moment instead by asking questions. “Why do you think she did that?” “What should he have done instead?” “How do you think you would handle the same situation?” In education, we call that the Socratic Method, and research shows it to be much more effective than lecture, as it leads the student to think and make conclusions that he or she will then own.

These conversations are especially effective as we lead our kids to develop compassion, courage, integrity and wisdom that they can apply to situations they encounter every day.

So, when you’ve made it through the brutal pick-up line traffic, or on the way home from football practice or gymnastics today, ask your children questions that would make Joseph Pulitzer and Socrates proud. You’ll be amazed at what your kids will tell you!

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