If you believe everything I write, there is a chance you are under the misconception that children do the asking and parents are stuck with the burden of coming up with acceptable answers. This could not be further from the truth. Children are not the only humans in your household who have a knack for asking the impossible, the obvious, and the absurd. Yes, I'm talking to you, parents. Consider the following questions you may or may not have ever asked your child.
The Rhetorical Question
The first time I noticed myself asking these types of questions was when I was a school teacher. I would ask things like, "Do you want your name on the board?" or "Do you want to miss recess?" As a parent, we know why we ask these kinds of questions. But have you ever wondered what children think about these threats posing as rhetorical questions? Do they really have the meta-cognitive awareness to know the motive behind our questions? As one of my 3rdgraders innocently asked me once, "Am I supposed to answer that question?"
The Obvious Question
"Are you listening to me?" "Do you understand me?" "Am I making myself clear?" Well, obviously not if you are having to ask those questions. Perhaps these questions lie dormant in a specific region of the brain until we are suddenly in a position of authority over children. Maybe it's wishful thinking, hoping even one kilobyte of data is making it past the firewall when every nonverbal signal their 50-pound bodies can muster is telling us otherwise. No matter what our reasons are for asking the obvious question, nothing screams psuedo-authority like a hollow question at the end of a lecture. "Have I made myself clear?" In the words of that thug from The Breakfast Club, "Crystal."
I know we parents don't think of these questions as the 3rd degree, but there are some days when our children sure think that's what we are doing. "How was school?" "What did you do today?" "Do you have any homework?" Honestly, it's just an attempt to know what is going on in our childrens' lives. Or is it?
I remember an episode recently when my own children were talking about the behavior management plan in their preschool classroom. They were not talking me to me, and I just happened to overhear what they were discussing. Alpha said something to Beta to this effect: "So-and-so had to sit at the table during group time because he got all of his circles moved." Circles moved? Sit at the table? How did I not know about this. I HAD to know about this! Let's be honest, every parent wants to know how their child stacks up with the rest of the class. I delved a bit further ...
"What does it mean to have your 'circle moved'?"
"What kinds of things does someone in your class -- not YOU of course, but those other wild children -- have to do to get his circle moved?"
"How many chances do you get before you have to go to the table?"
And of course, there was the real question I wanted to ask since the beginning of the interrogation ...
"Have YOU ever had your circle moved?"
This of course is when Alpha proceeded throw Beta under the bus. He described what he was doing during group time and that he had to move his circle, but not enough times to have to sit at the table. They also told me who HAD been moved to the table and why. After getting over my shock that I had not heard of this system before now (almost two months into the school year), I was instantly relieved to know my children were not total delinquents.
Parents do some of the strangest things. We spell things we don't want our children to understand. We use pig latin. We tell our children they have until the count of 5 to do something you've told them to do, as if those extra 4 seconds is enough to do some real soul searching. We say ridiculous things like, "Don't make me come over there!" as if their behavior is about to activate some sort of involuntary parenting muscle. And we ask silly questions. Questions with no answer, that could just as easily be framed as statements or imperatives. Despite all of our weirdness, our children turn out to be pretty normal, well-adjusted little humans. Only some of our weirdness seems to rub off on them. So, the next time your child asks you a silly question, just remember they probably learned it from you.