Ask When You Can; Tell If You Must


We all know that when you are learning something new, having someone just tell you what to do is not the best model for teaching. If I was going to teach a child to add, just telling them that 2+2=4 would not be as effective as providing the child with manipulatives, and having them figure out how many candies they would have if Mom gave you 2 and Dad gave you 2.

Yet, when it comes to teaching about appropriate behaviour, so often, our primary approach is to tell kids what to do. Clean your room, do your homework, be nice to your sister, share your toys….sometimes I feel that if I could just make an audio recording of all the directions I give to kids, I would save myself a lot of time.

But if we apply what we know about how to effectively teach to the teaching of behaviour, instead of acting as the directors of our children, we would act more as facilitators of their learning. Just like we set up a situation for kids to learn how to do addition, we would set up situations for kids to figure out appropriate behaviour.

The key to this is asking, instead of telling.

What was it you wanted in this situation?

Did it work out the way you wanted?

Can you think of a way that might have worked better?

Do you know anyone else that has managed this kind of situation well? What did they do?

There are obviously times when we have to tell.  When a kid is chasing down someone with a big stick, I’m going to yell “Stop!  Put that down!”  But I know it’s much more powerful to think about things and figure something out for yourself, than it is to just have someone give you the answer.  After all, if you aren’t having to exercise your brain a bit, are you really learning?

One of the things I love about asking questions instead of telling is that at the end, I can say to a child “Look at that! You already knew all the answers that you needed to solve this problem!” Instead of reinforcing that they were wrong and incapable, I can build them up to believe in themselves, and their ability to solve their own problems.

And isn’t that what learning should be all about?


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