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Stop Telling, Start Asking!

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Most of us can recall our feelings when we are told to do something or given a command that requires nothing back from us except our quick response or obedient action. If you're a teacher or a parent to a young child, you can probably relate to being asked many questions throughout your day, and since you're the grown-up, telling them your answer feels like the right thing to do in those moments, certainly the quickest. However, when we respond with open-ended questions instead of simply telling our answers, we foster critical foundational skills developed in the early childhood years. Unfortunately, children spend most of their days being told a lot and not asked nearly as much during these years.

Telling means to make something known, such as a command to do something or an answer to a question. Telling leaves no room for feedback, discussion, or conversation.

You might be wondering if this is an area that needs your attention, growth, and skill development. Whether you're a parent or educator, learning the skill of open-ended questioning is not only valuable, it is critically beneficial to a child's brain growth. For example...

Child: Where are my shoes?

Grown-up: In the shoe bin, by the door.

Or like this…

Student: I need markers for my picture!

Teacher: You may get the markers from the art cabinet

Well-intentioned parents and educators Give the child or student their answer, thoughts, or command. Solving the problem for them in the short term is a quick fix to meet the goal; however, the student does not develop the self-talk to take care of themselves and problem-solve in the delivery.

How does telling impact development?

  • Enables the child and doesn't support critical-thinking skill

  • Removes the element of choice and the opportunity for children to strengthen reasoning skills

  • Reduces the child's problem-solving capabilities

  • Reinforces the idea that the child isn't capable of finding answers and lowers self-confidence

  • Hinders the ability to develop self-regulation skills

Let's start asking!

Asking (posing an open-ended question) supports the goal of letting your child/student figure out the answer while considering possible solutions. In addition, inviting leaves room for feedback and discussion and can begin a conversation. For example, asking may look like this...

Child: Where are my shoes?

Grown-up: If you were your shoes, where might you be?


Student: I need markers for my picture!

Teacher: I hear you asking me if you can have a marker for your drawing. Where do we store art supplies in our classroom?

Asking your child or student an open-ended question as a response puts the question back at them, equipping them with skills to solve challenges and develop independence.

How does asking impact development?

  • Fuels innovation and imagination

  • Stimulates creativity and new ideas

  • Fosters independent-thinking

  • Supports brain development through critical thinking functions

  • Equips children with increased competency and problem-solving skills

  • Develops self-regulation skills

  • Strengthens trust in self and builds confidence

Parents and educators lead by encouraging and supporting children's growth and development. By asking open-ended questions, we send the message that we are confident in the child or student's abilities. However, when thinking of the essential skills needed for success throughout life, it is necessary to take a marathon view of raising our little learners during these early years. So rather than offering the quick-fix solution, let's add just a few extra seconds to the conversation so that we can support our children's brain growth and foster independent thinkers!

For additional information on behavior and the importance of asking open-ended questions, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children.



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