Have you ever asked an ‘innocent question’ and all hell broke loose? That’s because innocent questions are rarely innocent. You think you’re going in with curiosity and good intentions, but there’s often an ulterior motive you may not be aware of. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a supposedly innocent question and felt attacked, imagine how your kids feel in that situation.
I have learned that just because it feels like an innocent question or comment to me doesn’t mean the person in front of me hears it that way. And very often they’re right! It’s my own fears at work, or my need to be right. To understand it, all I have to do is remember how triggered I was by someone else’s innocent comment.
Even though it’s unintentional, these comments and questions can feel critical. Even though you just want the best for your child, partner, friend or parent, when you nag, endlessly check in, and ask ‘innocent questions’, it’s really you pushing your agenda, and expressing worry. This is when they respond with
“Enough. Stop nagging.”
“I thought I had this under control. Is this something I need to worry about?”
“This is why I don’t tell you anything.”
Innocent questions show a
lack of confidence in your child
Asking innocent questions also shows a lack of faith and confidence in the other person. It’s as if you’re saying, “You can’t handle this alone, so I have to stay on top of it for you.” Is that the message you really want to send? It’s no wonder you get annoyance and resistance in return. And then you respond, “I was only asking an innocent question.” There’s the proof it was not well-received.
Another way to look at it is that you’re fishing for information. “Did you finish that report?” A simple yes or no answer, right? Not necessarily. This may translate to, “What I’m really saying is that I haven’t seen you working on it. I’m trying to figure out how much is done, or not done, so I can nag/lecture/remind you that you’d better get a move on, and then I can stop worrying about your grades (and your future).” This may sound like an exaggeration, but I’ll bet a lot of you can relate.
It may very well be that your child does need some reminders, but that’s not the way to do it. Here are some suggestions:
Statement of fact: I noticed you’re avoiding that report.
Helpful questions: What would help you now?
Who could you ask for help?
What’s the toughest part about getting started?
What’s worked for you in the past?
Your goal is to help her develop self-awareness and problem-solving skills. Better questions can contribute toward this goal, instead of feeding the problem.
Change your innocent questions into more helpful, open-ended questions and watch everything change.