Partners In Learning Blog Team

Partners In Learning Blog Team
Blog Team

Monday, June 22, 2015

10 Questions You Shouldn't Ask

A rhetorical question is usually defined as any question that is asked for a purpose other than to obtain information that the question asks. These questions are usually meant to belittle or embarrass someone in a sarcastic way. The first time I realized asking rhetorical questions did nothing but hinder a difficult situation was about one year ago. I had all but 1 of my 18 kids lined up, sun-screened up, and ready to roll. I then looked at him and asked him in my nicest teacher voice, "Are you going to sit there under the table? Or are you going to join us outside on the playground?" DING! DING! I had instantly gave him the option to stay inside and sit under the table. By asking the question I set myself up for failure. I obviously already knew he would prefer to stay inside (c'mon Mrs. Sam he's sitting under the table!) he gave me an honest answer, it was not the one that I wanted but I did give him the option to answer honestly. So, with that being said I think it's safe to say that most children do not understand sarcasm and rhetorical questions. Because of this, I have been trying to train myself to stray from these types of questions. I would argue that these questions have been ingrained into our brains, and I still actively catch myself asking rhetorical questions but the difference is that I try my best not to. Here are 10 rhetorical questions I try to avoid asking (a child or anyone) and my version of their alternatives. 

Rhetorical Question #1
Why would that be okay?/Why did you do that? 

This doesn't work because obviously in their mind whatever they were doing was acceptable in their mind. Why did they do it? You know the answer, because they thought it was a good idea! C'mon!

Alternative to Say What You Mean
I don't like that you (insert behavior here). How could you have handled this situation better?
I don't like that you (insert behavior here). What could you have done instead of XYZ?

Rhetorical Question #2
Is this funny to you?/Why are you laughing?

This doesn't work because...wait for it... they are laughing... which indicates that hello Captain Obvious, there is something funny about whatever just happened.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
I understand that XYZ just happened and that you think it is funny, but now is not the time to laugh about it.
I do not think that XYZ is funny.
This is not appropriate right now because ABC.

Rhetorical Question #3
Is this how we act in our classroom/at our house/in public?

This does not work because they are (wherever you are) and yes, they are in fact acting like that.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
I do not like your behavior and it will not be tolerated (wherever you are) it is unacceptable because ABC.

Rhetorical Question #4
Are you still {doing what I asked you 500 times to stop doing} after we just talked about it?

This doesn't work, because like every other sassy thing I've said they are in fact doing what you have asked them not to do even if it is the 1st or 501st time you have asked them.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
You and I both know that we have had a conversation about (insert behavior here), it is important for you to stop doing (the behavior) because ABC. Here are some other things you can do instead of (the behavior). {Then tell them at least 2 or 3 things you'd like for them to be doing right now}.

Rhetorical Question #5
How many times have I said {XYZ}?

This doesn't work because unless you are actually keeping record of how many times you have said XYZ the question is irrelevant. 

Alternative to Say What You Mean
REPEAT THE DIRECTIONS IN A DIFFERENT FORM. If you told them word of mouth previously (and it obviously did not work) try another learning/teaching style such as writing it down or making your expectation into a song or hand motion. It's not them, it's you.

Rhetorical Question #6
What's wrong with you?

I'm not talking about "Aw, what is wrong? Are you okay?" Those are genuine questions you are inquiring an answer about. I'm talking about a child/person who looks upset, mad, or has an attitude and you ask "What's wrong with you?" You know what I'm talking about. This doesn't work because the child/person is already on edge and your tone and body language sounds/feels like you are attacking them.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
I can tell that you are upset/angry/etc. by the way your (describe one way you can tell their emotions from their body language) looks. What's going on? 

Rhetorical Question #7
What. Are. You. Doing? 

Again, like in #6 this is not a genuine "What are you doing?" as if you are curious. This is the mama bear/papa bear WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?! This doesn't work because you can clearly see what they are doing and you don't like it. Don't set them up to lie.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
Excuse me, I can see that you are (doing whatever it is that you don't like) and I do not like it because (tell them why) can you please stop doing that.
I don't like that you are doing that. Please stop because (explain).

Rhetorical Question #8
Do you know why you are in trouble?

This doesn't work because you have one of two things (in my experience) either A they seriously have no earthly idea that whatever they just did was wrong, or B they have done more than one thing wrong and they aren't sure which one you caught them doing and they don't want to be in double trouble.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
You are going to (insert punishment/consequence here) for x amount of minutes because you (insert behavior) and that is not acceptable because (give reasons why it's not okay).

Rhetorical Question #9
Are you listening?

This doesn't work because I know from personal experience that I am a great listener when I doodle or do a multitude of other things. So yes, they may not be looking, or they might be playing with their shoe/shirt/insert other hand stimulant here but there is a slight possibility they are actually listening.

Alternative to Say What You Mean 
{If it is a one-on-one conversation}
I would like it if you looked at me when I am speaking to you.
Please do not play with that while we are talking.

{If is is a group setting}
I like the way (insert someone who is practicing the behavior you like/expect) is using his/her listening ears.
ABC eyes on me.

Rhetorical Question #10
Do you want to {do something you really like to do}?

This one is obvious why it doesn't work - who would chose to do something they don't want to do over something they would like to do? No one. Not even adults.

Alternative to Say What You Mean
I understand that you want to (do what you like) if you can do XYZ for me, I will let you have x amount of minutes to (do what you like to do).

Overall, I know that a lot of the 'why they don't work' comments I made are sarcastic, but it's the only way that I remember to think like a child. In a child's mind these are their reactions when we ask useless rhetorical questions. There are a multitude of other alternatives but these are just some of the ones that I like to use.

The day when we finally start to understand that children are hard-wired just like adults we can start to have more effective conversations that are respectful to both the adult and the child. After all, remember what your parents always used to say 'to get respect you have to give it' - and this motto goes both ways!

Until next Monday,
Sam Brown

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