Grandparent’s Guide: The Art of Asking Questions

by Deborah Haddix

One of the most powerful tools any grandparent can utilize is that of asking questions. This simple act reaps so many benefits.

Asking questions of your grandchildren shows your interest in them and draws them into conversation. Your questions can help you learn more about your grandchild’s personality, their daily life, struggles, and feelings. Additionally, the conversations that flow naturally from your questions help strengthen your grandparent/grandchild connection and build deep relationship.

Question asking is a powerful tool. However, like anything else, the better we understand this tool, the more effective its use.

Practical Ways to Develop the Art of Asking Questions

Be present with your grandchild.

You’re asking questions because you want to connect with your grandchild. Your desire is to build deep relationships. This isn’t going to happen if you grandchild feels like they are part of an inquisition.

Create a safe and comfortable atmosphere by “doing” something together as you talk – go fishing, work a jigsaw puzzle, cook dinner, take a walk.

Do your homework. Then ask questions that connect.

Listen when your grandchildren talk. It’s so easy to tune them out, paying absolutely no attention. But when we make the effort to listen, we will hear all kinds of things about their school day, their friends, and situations that are causing them angst. These are the things to ask questions about later.

Other homework tips:

  • Listen, as well, when the parents of your grandchildren are sharing things with you that your grandchildren are going through. These are also things to note and ask your grandchild about.
  • Keep a pad of paper and a pencil by the phone. When you talk with your grandchildren, write down the things you want to remember for following up on in the future.
  • Set reminder alarms on your phone to help you remember to ask your questions in a timely manner. (For instance, follow-up on a major test or cheerleading try-out.)

Get to the heart of the matter.

Just as there’s a place for “small” talk, there’s a place for “small” questions.

Absolutely, use one or two “small” questions for easing into the deeper matters, but don’t waste your entire time together discussing the obvious. You want to ask questions that reveal something to you about your grandchild.

“Small” questions, typically:

  • Elicit a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Don’t require much thought to answer.
  • Do not reveal anything new about your grandchild.
  • Have obvious answers.

Examples of “Small” questions:
“What’s up?”
“How ya doing?”
“What about those (insert name of favorite sport’s team)?”
“How was your day?”
“What about this weather?”

Fit your question to your grandchild.

I have eleven grandchildren – eleven individuals, eleven unique personalities. They don’t all respond well to the same type of question. A few of my grandchildren are great with me jumping right into the heart of a matter. Others need a little warm-up time. There are a couple who are willing and able to respond to my questions right away. Then there are the ones who need some space (quiet time) to process the question before offering a response.

It’s okay to have a stock pile of questions. However, it’s so important to know how to take those questions and reword them or modify your “asking” technique in order to make the most of your time with your grandchild.

Ask open-ended questions.

Rather than asking, “Do you like school?” Ask, “What do you like most about school?”

You won’t learn much by a “yes” or “no” answer, but responses to open-ended questions can lead to enlightening conversation and provide a glimpse into your grandchild you might otherwise not have gotten.

Better yet, ask for stories.

Even better are questions that allow your grandchild to respond with a story. This is much for comfortable for them, and the story will reveal things to you that no “answer” ever will.

Ask, then wait.

As mentioned previously, some children need time to process the question, their response, or how they think you might react. Always give some wait time.

And… listen well.

A big part of developing the Art of Asking Questions, is to learn to listen well.

Listen with your ears and your eyes.

Give your grandchild your full attention. This means putting your phone away and removing all other distractions. Show them their importance by keeping your eyes on them while they speak.

Use appropriate body language.

Lean in! Smile. Nod. Let your grandchild know that you are listening through body language that communicates just that. They’re not going to be very interested in future conversations with us if our body language shouts, “I’m not listening!”

Focus on understanding.

How many of us are guilty of thinking about how we are going to respond WHILE our grandchild is speaking to us? When we do that, we are not really hearing what is being said. One of the best things we can do to develop the art of asking questions, is to learn to focus on hearing and understanding our grandchild rather than on planning how we will respond. Listen for what is spoken and what lies underneath.

Learn to rephrase.

One way to help with focus while listening is to learn to rephrase what your grandchild has said. Simply rephrase something your grandchild has said to show that you are listening. This can be done at an appropriate time during the conversation or when your grandchild has finished speaking.

Another rephrasing strategy that helps you move beyond the spoken word to a place of understanding is to say to your grandchild, “What I think I hear you saying is….”

Listen – without fixing, without preaching

One common mistake grandparents often make when their grandchildren share something with them is that they’re too quick to try to solve the problem.

Unless you are specifically asked, don’t try to fix the problem or give advice. If you are asked for advice, keep your words short and to the point. And, this is so important, do not preach at your grandchild. They get enough of that from other adults in their lives. You need to be a safe place. Remember, if you have lived an authentic life of faith before your grandchild, they know how you feel. Resist the urge to preach. Instead, bathe both your grandchild and the problem in prayer.

The Art of Asking Questions is a skill worth honing. Ask a well-crafted question, and you can open up a closed-mouthed grandchild and gain insight into their life.  Listen well, and you can learn to hear so much more than simply the words that are being said. Used by permission.

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