The Power of the Question Mark by Dr. Jody McVittie

by Yafa Crane Luria



What if we were to question our kids instead of telling?

Today’s guest post is from my colleague, Dr. Jody McVittie of Encouraging Solutions in Seattle, WA.

From an adult point of view “what needs to happen” can be so OBVIOUS.  The bathroom towels smell icky when they are left on the floor, the kitchen gradually has fewer and fewer bowls as teens bring them to their room on a “one way” flight pattern, clothes on the floor means that they aren’t in the laundry and won’t be clean at the time they are urgently needed.  Because it is so obvious to us, we adults have a tendency to tell our teens about what is going to happen or remind them about what they “need” to do.

Have you ever tried having a conversation with your teen using only questions?  It is worth trying.  The first time I did it I noticed that I was a bit tongue tied. Using questions made for a lot more space in the conversation. I ended up saying less and my teen ended up saying more!  With some practice I noticed that asking also allowed me to let go of responsibilities that really shouldn’t have been mine anymore anyway.

teen says think

I challenge you to try it.  Here are some hints:

–Go for curiosity. Do your best to ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
–Requests for obvious action don’t count in this exercise – though they are also appropriate and necessary.  But notice where the responsibility is with, “Will you please pick up your towel?” Curiosity about future action shifts the responsibility (What is your plan for your towel?) as long as you are willing make room for any answer and let your teen live with the result.
–Humor is helpful. “How long before those bowls in your room get a return ticket to the kitchen?”
–Listen for the need for being heard.  Instead of jumping in to help, offer instead:  “Would you like me to just listen, or would you like problem solving help?”  You’ll might be surprised at how often it is your ear and heart that is wanted more than your expertise.
–Open offers. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What can I do that would be helpful?”  If the request that your teen makes in return doesn’t work for you, you can say so and offer a counter proposal.  Not only that, remember that we learn by modeling.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, “What can I do that would be helpful?” more often from your teen?
–Be willing to take silence for an answer. Teens don’t run on the same agenda we do.  When your questions “click” you’ll get an answer – maybe even a conversation…. but sometimes they won’t.  Be patient, don’t take it personally and remember that your teen is working on figuring out who he/she is – which often starts with NOT being like you.  It isn’t personal, it is development.
–Be a learner.
  If this is new for you, you will make mistakes.  Be gentle with yourself, learn a little and try again.


BIOGRAPHY: A native Seattleite, Jody McVittie, MD ( earned her medical degree from Case Western Reserve University and did her residency in California. She worked as a family physician in both California and Washington before shifting to focus on broader community issues that impact all of our health including education, parenting and land use. Currently she consults with school staff, trains parent educators, teaches parent education classes and provides coaching to teachers and parents. Her dream is to build healthy communities by teaching parents, teachers and students how to work together in relationships founded on deep mutual respect. Jody is the mother of three young adults who have been some of her best teachers.


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