Why You Should Never Ask Your Child, "Did You Have Fun?"

The growing-up years are a time to learn and have fun as well. But, what do you convey to your child when you often ask her, “Did you have fun?” Read on to know more.

By Arun Sharma

Why You Should Never Ask Your Child, "Did You Have Fun?"

As soon as Dev and his father returned from a tour of the museum, his mom eagerly asked, “So, did you have fun there?”

While on a trek through the woods with classmates to study the fauna and flora, Sukanya’s dad called her over the phone to enquire about how things were. After speaking for some time, he asked Sukanya, “Aren’t you having fun there?”

In both the above-mentioned cases, the intention of the parents was to know how ‘it all went’ or ‘was going’. But, did the parents choose the right words to frame their question or did they ask the right question? Let us find out.

Why do we ask questions?

According to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”

The words of Confucius help us understand what we gain by asking questions. Irrespective of our age, we ask questions to acquire knowledge, to add to our existing fund of knowledge, or to address the gaps in our knowledge.

How important it is to ask questions is summed up by Richard Zare, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, in his article, ’The Power of the Question’, published in Resonance (2009). He says, “Today, we are drowning in information; no one person can know all knowledge – and the real power comes from the question, which organizes knowledge and directs us to the unknown.”

How does a question affect the responder?

While the individual asking questions benefits from the answers, questions also have an effect on the responder, especially when the responder is a child.

According to Prof Zare, “The quest to answer a question is where the learning takes place, not the answer itself.” Therefore, it is important for parents to ask their child the right question.

To put it simply, when we ask our child a question, it leads him to perform a series of actions like retrieving information, arranging it in a sequence, connecting it with his feelings, and finding the right words to verbalise his thoughts. Doing all these helps a child (responder) learn and develop his mental abilities.

So, as parents, it is important for us to put a lot of thought into framing questions.

The type of questions you should ask your child

Experts are unanimous in their opinion regarding the kind of questions we should ask our children. According to them, instead of asking a child closed-ended questions, which can be answered with a just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, we should ask her open-ended questions, which prompts her to perform the actions mentioned above.

Answering open-ended questions takes time, as the child needs to think. So, when you ask such questions, be patient and wait for your child to come up with the answer. Waiting to listen attentively to her answer will also make your child understand that you give importance to what she says.

Reasons why “Did you have fun?” is the wrong question

Doesn’t lead to learning: Your child doesn’t need to think much to answer as this is a closed-ended question which can be answered with just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As a result, when you ask this question, neither do you help your child learn nor do you help him develop any other ability like finding the right words to express himself.

Increases self-centredness: To answer this question, your child only needs to think about himself, automatically making him neglect everyone else around him. And, once it becomes a habit, your child loses the ability to empathise, show compassion and think about how he can contribute to make a difference in the lives of others.

Shifts the focus: Inappropriate use of the word ‘fun’ can shift the focus of your child towards only having a good time or seeking pleasure. It can make him think that his time is spent fruitfully only when he has fun. So, instead of asking this question, ask your child “How did things go?” or “How were you while you were out there?” or “What did you learn?”

Increases the tendency to complain: When asked this question frequently, the child may begin looking for fun in every activity he does. And when things turn out contrary to his expectations, he is sure to end up complaining about the lack of fun. With time, this tendency will only increase.

Fun is an important part of life; but, focusing solely on fun can make enjoyment the only expectation. With your questions, help your child become mindful of the needs of others, contribute in a meaningful way, and develop good moral character. 

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