It’s the question that sets your child thinking and widens his world, says HEMA VIJAY

Most parents and teachers are so busy giving instructions and lectures to their charges that they tend to forget about the importance of posing questions that will stimulate thought.

Questions not only kindle young minds; they also help us understand what's going on in their minds, whether they have understood what they have learnt. So, isn't it time we asked the right questions?

Teenagers invariably reply in monosyllables. If you were to ask a teenager “What happened at school today?” he would probably say “Nothing”.

But, ask him the score of the match played in the physical education class that day, how X or Y scored those points and then go on to other things that happened at school, you might get a more elaborate conversation going.

What to ask

Remember, your questions should not be boring or threatening. The minute parents show they have misgivings about their children's behaviour, they tend to clam up.

“For instance, if a teenager were to return home an hour later than usual, and if the parent asks in a concerned tone, ‘What happened? Why are you late? Aren't you tired and hungry?', then the kid feels prompted to explain. But, if he questions the child in a suspicious or angry tone, the child would close up and not come out with the facts,” says Dr. S. Yamuna, adolescent physician and consultant paediatrician.

Don't be judgmental

If you want your kids to be open in their relationship with you, have an open mind. Don't be judgmental all the time. Make them feel respected, trusted and nurtured, she suggests. Maybe then, adolescents won't tune out of our conversations and pour their hearts out to anonymous virtual friends.

Original thought and consequent achievements are driven by questions, not answers. For instance, it was a king's question on the purity of the gold in the crown that propelled Archimedes to discover the principle of buoyancy.

Of course, you can't expect a child to come up with Nobel-prize winning discoveries during his school work or prep time, but thought-provoking questions will develop his ability to look for and find answers.

As opposed to this, ‘thought-stopping' questions (questions to which answers have already been worked out) seem to be the norm in many of our school tests.

It is good to ask interesting questions that have to be thought about before they are answered. “Questions should make the child think deeply and apply the concepts learnt,” says Deivanai, Principal, Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam, which won the Best Performing School award for the south zone in the Question Making Competition (QMC) conducted by Educational Initiatives. She explains, “Correctly framed, application-oriented questions can actually identify if a child has genuinely understood a concept or not, besides shedding light on the thought processes of students,” she adds.

Teachers and parents could also get kids to look for answers on their own from books, from experiments, from experts or any potential source of knowledge. Sourcing answers throws up more questions in the process.

“The ability to ask questions is a powerful tool that allows children to gather information, learn about the world and solve problems,” says Michelle M. Chouinard in her monograph that examines the role of questions in children's cognitive development.

Obviously, questions and not data led Newton to discover gravity or Einstein to understand time.

Thoughtful questions sharpen the intellect, build problem-solving capability and develop initiative in children.

Rather than stifling lectures and wads of information, parents and teachers should take time to pose thoughtful questions.

Good ethics for questioning

Ask questions that sound interesting to kids, not you.

Maintain ‘Equal footing'. That is, both child and teacher/parent get a chance to ask questions.

Don't interrupt.

Accept at least the acceptable part of the child's answer before criticizing or correcting.

Have an open mind, and make your kids feel respected, trusted and nurtured.