Questioning techniques for busy parents and carers

Download a printable version of this article (PDF 298KB)

Questioning Techniques for Busy Parents and Carers

When parents and carers learn that a child in their family is experiencing bullying, finding the right words to use can be among the most challenging aspects of the journey of being a parent and carer.

Interestingly this tongue-tied feeling is just as acute whether a child is being bullied or whether a child has been engaging in bullying behaviours.

One of the most powerful decisions that a parent and carer can make in either situation is to search a little less for the right things to say and focus a little more on the right things to ask.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”
– Claude Levi-Strauss

First of all, collect your facts. There can be a temptation for busy and alarmed parents and carers to rush immediately to the school with an incomplete story, either to blame or simply to address the situation as quickly as possible. This can be counterproductive when you only have a sliver of the information in the story.

It is not helpful to dig too far into the past by examining mean looks or rude words that might have occurred several years ago, but it is useful to have a good gist of the current state of play. Pause. Consider the gaps that are possible. Ask calm questions like those below. This will ensure you know that what you are dealing with is actually bullying and, importantly, exactly what the nature of this bullying situation is:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Who have you spoken to about this?
  • Do you think any of the teachers are aware that this has been going on?
  • Are any other people involved?
  • How many times do you think this has happened?
  • How much is it affecting you, and how?
  • Would you like me to get involved in some way or just advise you?

Most of all, make sure the child knows how much you appreciate them opening up to you. For most children, this takes a commendable level of courage.

Further, expect this focus on questioning to be an ongoing feature of how you deal with bullying effectively. Many schools are using an approach called Restorative Practices to deal with bullying situations and have specifically prepared questions available for both parties to answer. The important aspect of this approach is the way the questions are designed to provoke behaviour changing thought, genuine awareness and responsible action. The examples below show what these questions can look like.

For those who have done the harm:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking about at the time?
  • What do you think now about what you did?
  • Who do you think was affected by your behaviour? And how?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

For those who have been harmed:

  • What did you think when this started happening?
  • What has been the impact on you and others?
  • What’s been the hardest part of this for you?
  • With that in mind, what do you think should happen to make things right?

It is important to notice that these questions are clearly designed to take the conversation from the past, through the harm of the present and into an action based future. This is the true function, and indeed the magic, of Restorative Questioning.

There’s certainly a strong body of evidence that in the search for answers to bullying, questions might be what we were looking for all along.

Further reading

More articles in the How do I help my child? topic

Involving our young people in the solution

We can identify many habits in the way we work, live and parent. Some habits serve us incredibly well. It can be really productive and positive if we can develop habits such as regular exercise, eating as a family at the dinner table, getting to work on time, eating healthy or turning the Wi-Fi off in our home at a particular time every evening.

Read more

The business of changing thinking

Has your child ever randomly changed a behaviour or surprised you with an out-of-the-blue response? Have you ever been completely floored by the teenager who unexpectedly made you breakfast in bed or even by the toddler who has always done grocery shopping so well but then inexplicably throws tantrum of the year one day in the fruit and veg section? I bet you have.

Read more

Optimistic parenting and care giving

When parents and carers learn that their child is being bullied, the news can be heartbreaking. It can floor them. It can worry them. It can even panic them.

Read more

“Clean your room” and other ways to build responsibility

One of the most common complaints of parents and carers is that children have a messy bedroom. This can particularly come into play when raising a teenager. Part of the pattern of failed attempts in the clean bedroom endeavour is entirely your own creation. It’s because you keep speaking to big concepts, such as responsibility, such as respect, such as tolerance and hoping that your child will get it. There is a problem in getting your children to clean their room because you are not being specific enough about what you want.

Read more

Building resilience in young people

Resilience is best defined as the ability to thrive despite risk. There are five key characteristics that identify resilience in young people.

Read more

What if my child bullies?

Getting the news from the school that your child has been doing something unsavoury, like bullying, causes immense distress to parents and carers. It is worth being ready with some strategies that can make a real difference in case that news arrives.

Read more

The bullying prepared child

All parents and carers have frequent or at least occasional concerns about whether their child is being bullied at school, in the neighbourhood or online. It is important that parents and carers do whatever they can to prevent bullying and to be proactive about it. Preparing your children to respond well if bullying presents in their lives is challenging, and the preference is to be proactive rather than reactive. It is far more helpful to work on prevention than to wait until emotional damage is done.

Read more