The essence of good teaching, good mentoring, and good parenting is to ask thought-provoking questions. Questions that promote insight and a greater self-awareness in the other person. These are questions that lift up conversations from a simple exchange of information to a more conceptual level. They are called 'Second Questions'.

When interacting with children, it is always tempting to 'tell them things'. To give them the benefit of your experience and wisdom about life so far. However, they quickly tire of being given advice, and will withdraw into a private world of sullen resistance. In essence, you lose them. A far better style of interaction is to be inquisitive and curious about their world. To ask children what they think and how they see the world. You will find that your curiosity and interest will energise and inspire them. They will feel valued and affirmed.

We jump in with well-intentioned advice, but we all know that there is nothing worse than an old bore telling us how to live our lives.

We all know that asking “What happened at school today" will elicit a grunted “nothing" in reply. But asking “What was the best thing about school today?" makes the child think. And if you follow that up with another thought provoking question, such as “Why was it so good?" or “How can you build more of that into your life?" you can prompt more insightful, thoughtful replies. Asking kids searching questions is a great habit to get into. Rather than suggesting ideas or offering advice, we are instead encouraging them to think for themselves. And if they come up with stupid replies, we simply persevere with more questions (“What would be the negative consequences of doing that?“ or "How would that affect you later on?")

We should maintain an unrelenting attitude of healthy curiosity about their thoughts. We do not need to become judgemental or critical, but we should simply accept what the child says and work with that. Inducing wisdom in children is a subtle business. All too often we jump in with well-intentioned advice, but we all know that there is nothing worse than an old bore telling us how to live our lives. True wisdom lies in knowing how to ask thought -provoking questions that induce lasting insight in others. A child can learn to find their own conclusions to a troublesome issue. They will create their own opinion, and are more likely to apply the general principles that the question has raised to other situations in the future.

You have also taught them to lift up their thoughts from the here and now to consider the bigger picture.

An example might concern the need to keep good boundaries with adults. Warning of stranger danger, or saying “don't sit on granddad's lap unless it feels right for you", is simply giving advice. It is a prescriptive rule or an instruction to be obeyed. But asking a child what they could do? if the touching doesn't feel right, or whereabouts on the body does touching feel wrong?, starts the child thinking about boundaries in general, and what their options are for keeping themselves safe. In turn, they are able to become wiser about life in general, and you have also taught them to lift up their thoughts from the here and now to consider the bigger picture. They have learned to think conceptually. To be asked 'Second Questions' about life is a wonderful gift for anyone to receive, especially a child. So ask them, ask them, ask them. They deserve it!!

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