How to Know What Your Child is Thinking

Have you ever wondered what your child is thinking when he says or does something that seems utterly meaningless to you?  For example, he or she might want you to meet his/her imaginary friend or be talking to an imaginary friend or very often our response is to stop.

But have you thought of taking a different approach? Rather than dismissing what he is saying or doing, why not ask some engaging questions that will give you a better idea of what they are thinking? By the answers they give, you are more likely to find out what and how they are thinking and what they are learning about the world around them.

Engaging questions are those that get a child to go beyond the mere yes and no answers which are so easy. Instead, the kind of questions I have in mind are those that require them to pause and think more carefully and deeply before they answer them.  For example, instead of asking them how they liked the movie, you could ask a much more thought-provoking question such as ‘Why do you like the hero in the movie?’ This encourages them to think and process what they saw before giving an answer.

One of the reasons for asking this kind of thought-provoking questions is because their answers will help us to know how they are thinking and making sense of the world they live in. Hearing their ideas provide the perfect opportunity for teachable moments when we can guide their thinking, clarify what they do not yet understand, and reaffirm what they already know.  All this can be done in a conversational and positive manner that affirms their self-esteem and make learning easy.

Another reason for asking this type of question is because children must think to find the answers and, in the process, they also learn. This might be a bit more complex than the first reason as in thinking and responding they must put their ideas into words. Expressing the ideas aloud might also make them change what they are thinking as, sometimes, the very act of expressing themselves causes them to rearrange their ideas to sound better and make more sense, as they understand it.

So here are five questions you can ask your child to engage their thinking:

  1. What happens when you do something?

This kind of questions makes the child think about how one thing leads to another, a kind of cause and effect.

  • What do you think will happen when…?  You might ask this about what happens to birds when the sun goes down. This is likely to trigger the child to predict an action based on their prior knowledge. This ability to predict events helps a child to understand a story better and to make connections between their various experiences.
  • How does one thing remind you of something else? Here the child is being encouraged to use his memory to make connections between current and past experiences and for interpreting the former.
  • What do you notice about something? This will help to sharpen the child’s power of observation by making them look more closely at the things around them and use their five senses more.  For example, they might notice that the sky gets dark before it rains or that the lightning usually flashes before the thunder sounds or that owls tend to hoot in the nights.
  • Why? This question requires an explanation for what the child thinks about something. For example, asking them why they are afraid of the dark or think there is a monster in their room should yield some interesting information of their thought process.

When you ask your child any of these or other  kinds of engaging questions, you should give them enough time to explain their ideas and  then repeat what they say so they will know you are listening and trying to understand. So next time you talk to your child, remember to ask them engaging questions that will help to stimulate their thinking.