Talking to Your Teen: The End of “Why” Questions

Talking to Your Teen: The End of “Why” Questions

Talking to Your Teen: The End of “Why” Questions

Talking to Your Teen: The End of “Why” QuestionsMy sophomore daughter was struggling with a complex essay assignment for English. She tried to structure a thesis statement that met the teacher’s requirements. The guidance she got from the teacher boiled down to “Revise this.” Not helpful.

I thought, I will help her! My first question: “Why haven’t you gone in to get assistance with this?” She looked at me with a mixture of annoyance and ‘duh.’

“I did mom,” she said. “But it wasn’t helpful.”

“Why not get some after school time with her, or see one of the English tutors?” I inquired, then stopped myself, realizing I had no idea what was really going on.

It turned out my daughter didn’t know how to get more out of the teacher than “revise” and felt guilty asking for more help.

“I need some ideas for what to say to my English teacher,” she finally told me.

That’s how I was able to move beyond anxious “why” questions and begin to offer some constructive tips.

Mind Your Why Questions

In our last newsletter, I talked about the importance of not constantly grilling your teen about grades. Another communication style to be mindful of is the “Why” question.

  • Why haven’t you started your schoolwork?
  • Why did you wait so long?
  • Why haven’t you communicated about this problem with your teacher?
  • Why didn’t you ask for an extension?
  • Why are you missing work?

Why questions can come across as accusatory, putting teens on the defensive. After all, “why” questions don’t generally come from a place of curiosity or with an offer of help or support. They can sound anxious and frustrated, and your teen is sensitive to that. Your “why” question may be interpreted as you saying, “You’ve disappointed me.”

Let’s Minimize those “Why” Questions

Instead of asking “why,” pivot to a question that helps your teen move toward a new and more beneficial habit or behavior.

Here are some key elements of conscious and constructive questions to keep in mind:

ACKNOWLEDGE the challenge in the work and enlist the student to problem solve.

  • Mom: “It looks like the bio test was challenging! You mentioned you didn’t get the grade you wanted.”
  • Teen: “I started studying too late, I think. There was a lot of vocabulary, and I didn’t really understand one of the concepts.”
  • Mom: “Can you think of anything you can change that would help studying before the next test?”
  • Teen: “I should start early. Maybe make a Quizlet and use the textbook more with the slides.”
  • Mom: “Is the teacher helpful 1-on-1?”
  • Teen: “Yeah, I could go in during my free period when he’s available too. He said to come in. I’ll put it on my to-dos for this week.”

COLLABORATE by helping to empower your teen to identify the issues and generate a solution. Always ask if your teen would like your help or suggestions. Examples of concrete guidance:

  • “Maybe there is something about this confusing topic in the slides. Any idea where it might be located?”
  • “How about jotting down some questions you have for the teacher so you don’t forget what you need to ask about the paper?”

Try OBSERVATION WITH EMPATHY and offer a TECHNIQUE. Students may be stressed and overwhelmed. They are hard on themselves! Help your teen if possible to understand what led to the late work or lower than normal grade:

  • Typical problem: an assignment wasn’t started until the night before the deadline and your child is up late. Could it be that your student (1) couldn’t find directions? (2) is unclear how to start even with directions? (3) is worried about not being able to meet the standards?
  • Observation: “It looks like you had a hard time getting the reading assignment done. It can be difficult to get moving on a long article like this.”
  • The offer: “Can you send a note to the teacher to request an extension of 24 hours and a meeting to ask how best to take notes on this?”

The above tips can lead to improved communication between you and your teens. Primed with this information, you’ll know the next time you feel a “why” question coming on to put off chatting with your teen until you’ve cleared your head.

Get More Useful Tips Like This

Join SOS4Students for our Talking to Your Teen: Collaboration vs Collision parent workshop on March 17 at 6:30 pm via Zoom. In this final session of our 3-part series, we’ll explore typical parent-child communication issues, including woes and pitfalls. You’ll also get to practice how to give effective praise and feedback, plus learn how anxiety can impair effective conversations and how to avoid its trap.

Summer 2024 Workshop Registration Is Live!

It’s never too early to begin planning for summer vacation and making time for your student to attend one or more of our popular summertime executive-function-based programs.

  • Designed to build study tools, habits, and strategies.
  • Our workshops sell out, so register before May 1, 2024, to ensure a spot and lock in early bird rates.
  • All workshops are held in-person at Lafayette Library.

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