Written by Susan H. Christiansen

We ask questions every day because we need to know something, we want to know something, or we want to “share our wisdom, avoid trouble, or are just nosy,” (Talk to Me, Dean Nelson, PhD, 1). 

Think about questions we ask our kids every day. 

  • How did you sleep?
  • Good morning! How are you today?
  • How do you feel?
  • Is everything alright?
  • Did you do your chores?
  • Do you like that book?
  • What happened at school today?
  • Did you finish your schoolwork?
  • Did you think about the consequences of your decisions?
  • Did you consider how saying those words would make your sister feel?
  • What movie do you want to watch?

When is a question just a question or means of conversation and when does it lead to more? Let’s explore the answer in our next few sections.

How and Why Do Teachers Ask Questions?

Teachers use questions as a core component of formal teaching (called Pedagogy). Dictionary.com defines pedagogy as the act of teaching something or what teachers do. Teachers prompt students for facts, to guide them towards the correct answer, or to encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Research has estimated that teachers ask about 400 questions per day. Questions can be used to:

  • gather information
  • check on the status of assignments
  • help the child learn something new
  • be used to inspire action

3 Types of Questions and Their Benefits

Three types of questions commonly used are “information-seeking questions”, “rhetorical questions”, and “pedagogical questions.”

Information-seeking questions are used to gather information from others.

Rhetorical questions are used to make a point. Both the parent and the child may or may not know the answer. An answer is not required.

Pedagogical questions are used for the purpose of teaching. The teacher (in this case, parents or caregiver) already knows the answer.

Here are a few of the benefits your child will enjoy through answering questions:

  • Open‐ended questions require children to construct mental frameworks that enhance learning and remembering. It teaches them to: 
    • think creatively
    • stimulates language development
    • acknowledges there may be more than one answer to a question

Kids and Questions: Is It a Good Match?

The short answer is yes. According to a study led by Michael M. Chouinard:

“When children encounter a problem with their current knowledge state (a gap in their knowledge, some ambiguity they do not know how to resolve, some inconsistency they have detected), asking a question allows them to get targeted information exactly when they need it.”

How Parents Can Use Questions to Teach and Connect

Several research studies have found that the types of questions parents ask change based on the child’s age. Interactions between mother-child and father-child are also unique. The following suggestions are acceptable guidelines for either parent.

Infants and Young Children Strategies

For infants and young children use cues like: 

  • joint attention (ask the child to look at something together, perhaps getting down to their eye-level)
  • child‐directed speech (use simple and direct sentences such as “What does that button do?” or “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why did that happen?”)
  • name-calling (call your child by their name, wait until they look at you, then proceed to talk to them)
  • Ask more wh-questions, fewer yes-no questions

Tween and Teen Strategies

For older children and teens, a gentler approach is needed because they consider whether the source is knowledgeable:

  • older children assume the parent already knows the answer, so preface your conversation by saying you don’t know the answer
  • ask more wh-questions, fewer yes-no questions
  • try asking questions to get to know your child like these questions suggested in a Psychology Today article
  • tell your teen you need to talk to them about something (name the topic) and schedule a date and time to do it
  • use questions to inspire curiosity and love of learning

Just like teachers, parents can use questions not only to gather more information but to teach and learn as well. Parents begin to talk to their children very soon after birth. The more you talk to your child, including asking questions, the better off your child will be.