How to hone your child’s ability to ask and answer questions
People ask questions to learn more information about something, and they answer questions to provide more information.
Being comfortable with questions is a skill that needs to be practised. This skill is central to how children learn, the ease with which they polish their social skills and their growing ability to reason and work with information.
Being comfortable with questions is key to children’s ability to:
1) Participate in classroom discussions,
2) Build and maintain relationships with friends and family, and
3) Think critically about information and people’s opinions so that they can verify facts and be confident about what they know and believe.
The ABC’s of questions and answers.
Answering a question is a surprisingly multi-faceted process1 as it involves hearing and understanding the words that constitute the question, thinking about the meaning of the words, keeping this information in mind while coming up with an answer, and then finally, speaking the answer.
Interestingly enough, asking a question is even more difficult. Why? Because it requires identifying a gap in one’s own understanding of a topic or coming up with a question that is logically related to what someone has just said.
In addition to this, the child who is posing the question must also use working memory to hold the root of the question that they intend to ask in mind while stringing words together to formulate a grammatically correct sentence to express themself.
Some questions are easier than others.
Children master why-questions in a sequence starting with more concrete questions about their immediate environment before moving onto experimenting with more abstract ideas.
“What” questions therefore rank as easiest to ask and answer, followed by “Who”, after which children typically learn to ask and answer questions that start with “Where”.
“When” comes up next, followed by “Why”, “How” and “What if” ranking as most difficult.
Between the ages of 12- and 24-months toddlers typically learn to ...
• Answer basic “What’s this?” questions about objects that are familiar to them.
• Answer basic “Where is the …?” questions by pointing.
• Shake or nod their head in response to yes/no questions. (Shaking comes long before nodding.)
• Indicate that they are asking a question by raising their tone of voice as they say a word. They may, for example, say, “What?” or “This?” when they want to ask, “What’s this?” And they often say, “Mommy?” to ask, “Where is Mommy?”.
Between the ages of 24- and 36-months children are ready to learn to ...
• Point to answer “Where …?” questions such as “Where do you wear your shoes?” or “Where do the books go?” as you’re putting toys away.
• Respond to “Can you … (verb)?” questions by doing what they’re asked to do.
• Answer questions like “What is … (name of person) doing?” and “Who is … (continuous verb)?” with at least one word and later with a short sentence.
• Ask “Where …?” questions to get basic needs met, for example, “Where cup?”
• Ask one-word “Why?” questions.
Between the ages of 36- and 48-months children begin to use longer sentences.
If your child is currently 3 years old, he or she will most likely be ready to use longer and longer sentences to answer more complex questions about consequences, solving problems and the uses of objects. Here are a few examples of the types of questions that you can introduce to your child:
• “What do we do with a car?” or “What do we do with a ball?”
• “What would happen if you dropped the glass?” or “What would happen if you forgot to feed your pet?”
• “If you were hungry, what would you do?” or “If you were sick, what would you do?”
After their fourth birthday, children’s growing reasoning skills change their outlook on the world and this impacts on their ability to ask and answer questions.
Usually 4 and 5 year-olds develop exceptionally fast in their ability to plan, reason logically, think about their thinking and keep information in mind to work with it.
Consequently, children of this age typically make great strides in their ability to answer a wide variety of questions including all the why-questions, such as “What?”, “Where?”, “Who?”, “Why?”, “Where?”, “How” and “What if?”.
Most importantly: as children near their sixth birthday, they find it much easier to come up with longer questions that involve linking two sentences (thoughts) together, for example, “Can we … before/after/while we …?”
How to help pave the way for your child to become comfortable with questions.
Start by asking yourself questions out loud and answering them so that your child can get used to the unique way in which people think as they ask and answer questions. For example, “Where do we put the bananas? We keep the bananas in the … “ or, “Why do we do the dishes? We wash our dirty dishes with soap and water because … “.
Also, listen closely to your child’s conversations to determine the type of question(s) that is most problematic to them. When you detect a possible concern, explain to your child what it means to ask and answer that type of question, for example2:
• Who - asks about a person (e.g. “Who won the race?”
• What – asks about something (e.g. “What is that?”)
• When – asks about a time (e.g. “When are we leaving?”)
• Where – asks about a place (e.g. “Where will we be staying?”)
• Why – asks about a reason (e.g. “Why is she doing that?”)
• How – asks about the way in which something happens or comes into being (e.g. “How does this work?”)
• “What if” means we are talking about something that may possibly or most likely happen, for example, “What would happen if we didn’t water the plants?”
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Free milestone reminders
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Downloadable educational game
To support you in this regard, we’re providing you with a unique question-and-answer game that can be printed and carried around in a parent’s backpack or handbag. We trust that it will provide welcome entertainment in situations where children are typically bored, for example while waiting at the doctor’s office.
Please follow this to download your game in PDF format.
IMPORTANT NOTICE. NESTLÉ® NANKID® 4 is not a breastmilk substitute and is formulated to support the changing needs of healthy children older than 3 years.
Ogilvy August 2022
1. Online article: Why is asking and answering questions important? abcpediatrictherapy.com
2. Online article: Wh-questions and why they’re important. Written by Grace Adams, Speech Pathologist. Available on learninglinks.org.au