If I ask questions will a child talk to me?

I work with children as a speech and language therapist. It is a job I love! It totally fulfills me; what a privilege that I get to talk to kids all day and listen to them express themselves in all their fantastic ways. As a speech and language therapist, it is my job to create a communication environment for a child that is warm, welcoming and therefore easy for a child to communicate in, both verbally and non-verbally. Recently though, I had to stop myself.

I had just started a session, and I was certainly not thinking, not thinking at all – I was doing ALL of the talking, I was not giving the child a chance to try and talk to me first! I had unwittingly caught myself in a communicative trap – a cycle of repetitive question asking on my part. I say “trap” because questions, when you think about it, can be SO one sided.

People, and that’s including children, don’t always want to answer questions. They can add too much pressure on communication, the questions can be of little interest, and most importantly, a person (little or big) may not want to share information.
So, this is what happened…

I was working with a boy that I had not seen for a few weeks, whom I just adore! It was the start of the session and I was desperate to hear about what he had been up to in the past few weeks, and to also, just have a catch up before we started actively working.

And so, I asked him a question and did not get a response back, so I tried again, and still no response, and then I tried again a different way. What was I doing? He was not interested in my questions; he did not want to answer my questions! He actually wanted to get on with what we normally do in our lessons – he was tired; and he just did not want to talk about his holiday. I suddenly realised what I was doing.

I couldn’t believe myself. One of the first things we are taught when we are training is to avoid asking questions, as this can place pressure on a child; instead make comments, such as, “That’s a nice picture.” Or “I like your cool t-shirt” etc.

This experience, inspired to me to write something brief, simple and to the point. No matter what age a child (and adult for that matter but I will only focus on children here), asking questions can place pressure on a child’s communication skills. Let’s have a think; we ask a child questions to find out about them, how they are feeling, how their day was etc. and essentially engage in communication.

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” Winnie the Pooh

Yes perhaps, but…on a more practical level, we have to take into consideration that:

A: A child may not want to talk.

B: A child may be tired – when we are tired, talking is much harder and for a child, who is still learning words and how to express themselves effectively, talking is even more of challenge! Makes sense, right?

C: A child may want to be doing something else rather than talking to you!

If we bombard with questions, we add pressure to the situation and place additional pressure on a child; and we are, more than likely, not going to get a desired response. So, do we keep asking more questions, which seems like the most natural thing to do. Or do we draw back, observe and give a child some space, therefore taking away any pressure on communication?

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” Charlie Kaufman

Communication is how we express ourselves both verbally and non-verbally. Don’t forget how much information we can convey with a smile, with a gesture – sometimes these non-verbal cues are enough for a short period of time. Personally, I think it is okay to have silent moments. This gives your child time to try and initiate communication with you, and it they are little, try new words and new word combinations.

But…back to the whole point about questions and not trying to ask them so much, what is the solution?

It is obviously not possible to not ask questions at all. Just think before you ask! Here are some quick and simple things that you can try.

1. Watch and observe your child. Do they seem tired? Do they seem like they want to talk?

2. If a child does not answer a question and you are sure that they have heard. Don’t ask it again. Just be with them, do what they are doing, comment on what they are doing, “Your sandwich looks yummy!” This quiet, gentle, relaxing environment may encourage your child to communicate with you!

3. Accept that you will not always be able to find out information from your child when you want to.

4. Enjoy communication for what it is; sometimes it’s about talking, other times it’s about being side by side and being non-verbal.

5. Lastly, we all talk when we want to talk. Communication is a very natural process and cannot be forced.

I have definitely gone back to being more careful about my communication skills since this experience. I’m not suggesting that we should avoid questions; I’m just saying that we should not ask them repetitively and think before we ask; therefore making inviting and relaxed communication environments for the kids we know.

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