Three Powerful Questions to Unlock the Heart of Your Teen
I have a hobby you might find unusual. I collect questions.
While some people collect dolls, baseball cards, or antiques, I collect questions. You might wonder why I ever started this; and I’ll tell you: I came to recognize what a powerful teaching tool questions were and how they can really serve as a heart connector.
A quick survey of the gospels reveals that Jesus, our Savior and Teacher, asked 307 questions. He used questions to gather information (“How many loaves do you have?”), to teach (“Whose likeness and image is on this coin?”), and to gain commitment (“Who do you say that I am?”).
Too many times as a parent, I want to lecture my child when in fact a question is a much better tool to teach and to strengthen the relationship.
Realizing the power of questions changed how I communicated with my children. As I interacted with my four teens, I found three questions that powerfully unlocked many fruitful conversations.
A Question to Connect the Heart Through Prayer
If God gives us children, he calls us to pray for them. As I pray, I have both long-term and short-term requests. For example, I ask God on a regular basis that he would sanctify them by the Word or provide them with a godly spouse. Other requests might be more short term and related to a deficiency I hope the Lord will change, like growing in joy or kindness.
Correcting our children when they’re young is right and absolutely called for. That’s why God gives us little children. But as my children grew older, my speaking and encouragement needed to grow more sophisticated. As their heart motivations grew deeper, so did my questions. Scripture says that when we speak without listening we are foolish (Proverbs 18:13). And a wise man draws out the deep purposes of a person’s heart (Proverbs 20:5).
How do we draw out the deeper waters of the heart? Simply asking, “How would you like me to pray for you?” is one good place to start.
Asking the question sincerely communicates several things.
First. no matter how strained the relationship, everyone appreciates prayer. It is a way of communicating love. Our child will feel our love.
Second, this open-ended question causes our child to do some soul searching. “What in my life needs prayer? What are the stress points in my life that I am willing to tell my mom or dad about?” We are encouraging self-reflection just by asking a question.
Third, it builds a common bond. Now the two of us are going to be praying about this problem together. We are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to fight some of life’s problems.
Fourth, this kind of inquiry gives you something deeper to talk about in the future. After you pray for a while—and you should—you can follow up by asking, “How is it going? You asked me to pray about this, and I have. What has the Lord been doing?”
Asking this question binds your hearts together. In addition, it allows you to be appropriately vulnerable and invite your children to pray for you. Paul asked his churches to pray for him, and we should ask our children to pray for us!
Two Questions to Diffuse a Conflict
The teen years are notorious for disagreements. Young people alternate between surprising us with their mature and immature behavior alike—often within the same hour.
But those radical swings between maturity and immaturity, character and sin, can leave us with whiplash and even a frayed relationship. And remember, it’s most likely that our children will not take the initiative to calm and restore the relationship. So we want to be proactive in taking steps toward them.
Over the years, through much sin of my own, I have found two questions to be helpful in restoring a frayed relationship with my teens.
“What do you think I don’t understand?”
“How do you think I have sinned against you?”
The first question allows them to restate the issue in their terms. I am asking humbly to get the log out of my own eye. It’s important not only that I understand but that they feel understood. Following up this question with, “Here’s what I heard you say. Is that correct?” allows you to reinforce that you do understand what they are telling you.
The second question, “How do you think I have sinned against you?” brings the question down to the heart level. You are asking them to put into words what behavior of yours hurt them.
I hope that the benefits of these questions are obvious to you.
First, you are admitting that you may not understand the issue. Or at least you’re perceiving that they don’t think you understand. You’re giving them permission to clarify your understanding.
Second, you are admitting you may have sinned against them. By using the word “sinned,” you bring the Lord into the picture of the disagreement. You are not at this point admitting you have sinned, but you are inviting their perspective.
Third, the Lord will honor the humility in these questions. Your approachability will make an impact on your teen. Even if you don’t change your mind about the conflict, your teen will have felt heard and cared for.
Questions were a strategic tool in the ministry of Jesus. Imitating our Teacher, we can become more skilled with this tool and thereby become more skilled in our parenting discipleship. Write these questions someplace where you can easily find them again. The front of your Bible might work well.
These questions, along with plenty of others, will serve as your friends for building relationships within your household and the household of God.