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Sep
02

The Question with a Question

By

questionBrad Washburn, Do the Dad Thing bloggerAfter many long days the kid has climbed to the top of the mountain to reach the mystic guru of all knowledge:  The Dad.

The kid has journeyed past the Forest of Despair, through the Pits of Insecurity, and has taken the arduous climb over the Boulders of Persistence.  All to reach the top, and ask the question; the question that burns most deeply in the souls of all children:

“How do I make blueberry muffins?”

The great sage of all time, The Dad, breaks his gaze away from contemplating the cosmos, and sagely answers,

“How would you find that information?”

His deep curiosity being satisfied, the kid begins the long journey back down to civilization with new insight . . . .

______

There are many reasons that kids ask questions.  When they are young, they are curious about EVERYTHING and there is an endless stream of fact gathering questions.  How does a toaster work?  Why do people get haircuts?  Etc. etc.

As kids get older, most of their questions are about the rules of society and your authority:  Why do police give people tickets?  Why do I have to go to bed?  Etc. etc.

But there comes a time (usually around middle school age) where the questions are both practical fact gathering questions AND questions about society and values.  They are questions that beg for answers that are both useful and important.  . . . and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t answer them.

Sure, we definitely want to pass on knowledge and teach values, and most Dads are an endless storehouse of useful facts – these are the things that Dads do best.  But, one of our important jobs as kids get older is to:

Help kids think for themselves.

Which, to put in the vernacular:  really sucks.  Our offspring finally get old enough to be curious about the things that we actually know, and it’s largely our job the help them find the answers themselves.  Urgh.

If you think about it.  We don’t want to train our kids to come running to us throughout their adult life to answer questions.

Did Napoleon ever visit the United States?

Where can I buy a snow blower?

How do you make blueberry muffins?

What CAN you do when you get asked a question?

Turn it back to them.  Answer their question . . . get this:  with. a. question.  It’s genius in simplicity.  Usually a “How would you find that out?” is enough to both frustrate them and put them on the path to research so that they can find out all the knowledge in the universe.  They will someday be the gurus sitting on the mountain full of knowledge – knowledge that they have gained themselves.

Here’s how it works.  When you son/daughter is getting older and has access to their own reason, and access to the library, and access to Google, and access to the Bible; you ask a question that puts them on the path to pursue their own answers.

This will not go well for your kids.  They want knowledge handed to them the way you used to do in the past.  They will complain, they will accuse you of (gasp!) being a ‘bad’ dad.  They will angrily get information and exploit it for their own ends. – which is really the point actually.  Our job as Dads is to help our kids be independent and make good, quality decisions.  That means they need the experience in how to find information on their own.

The good thing is that we can still be gurus.  We can talk to our kids about the information that they glean.  We can help them look.  We can help flesh out their ideas with tidbits of wisdom.  Here’s how it would look:

 

Kid:  Hey Dad, how do I make blueberry muffins?

Dad:  Hmmm.  How would YOU figure that out?

Kid: (rolls eyes)  Dad, could you just tell me?  I’m hungry. 

Dad:  Sure, I could.  But I think you know how to Google . . . (Kid storms off)

(Time passes)

Dad:  Hey, did you find out the secret to blueberry muffins?

Kid:  Yeah.

Dad:  Tell me about what you found out.

Kid:  Well, there’s a website with all kinds of recipes. .  .

This is the magical moment when a Dad can add a story, give tips, or extol the unsung virtue of manly baking.  You can even point them to the Bible for ultimate knowledge.

You know, Jesus was the ultimate Guru of answering questions with questions.  Sometimes his question answers would trap people (read Matthew 21:23-24) sometimes they would get people to think (read Luke 10:25-37), and they always would challenge people:

Matthew 19: 16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.

Jesus has some great answers, but He is always amazing at guiding us to find out things ourselves.

Of note:  This is different than the classic ploy to answer a question with a question to defer guilt:

Kid:  Hey, why are there only 3 blueberry muffins left?

Dad:  How would you find that information?

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