How to get an honest response from your kids

Written by: Paulette Janus

You walk into the kitchen to find an open bag of cookies on the counter and your child with chocolate on their face. You ask, “Did you eat the cookies?” Of course, the response is, “No.”  And you just wish for an honest answer. How often does this happen, whether in interactions with your child, a co-worker, or the used car dealer? Here are a few strategies to increase the likelihood of getting an honest response.

1. Do not ask a question that you already know the answer to. Lying is a normal, defensive response to avoid conflict or negative consequences. We all hope to not get caught when we mess up. So rather, say, “I see that you ______ (whatever action you want to address). Tell me what happened.”

2. Ask open-ended questions. Asking “What homework do you have tonight?” will most likely evoke a different response than if you ask “Do you have homework tonight?” It is easier to respond with the one word “No,” especially when we are trying to avoid something.

3. Ask specific questions. How often do you find you get the response of “good” or “fine” when you ask “How was your day?” or “How are you?” These are programmed responses. So instead, if you know your child painted pictures in preschool today, say “Tell me about painting” and “What other activities did you do today?” These questions often garner more information.

4. Ask both positive and negative-assumption questions. Ask not only, “What was your favorite part about school today” but also “What did you struggle with most during soccer practice?” We tend to avoid discussions of unpleasant things. By making assumptions that everyone experiences challenges, struggles, and frustrations, you will elicit a more accurate description and response.

5. Finally, trust your instinct. How many times have you just knew that someone was not telling you the whole story or was leaving something out? Circle back and continue to ask specific questions. Reflect back, “I don’t seem to understand. Tell me more.” You may just find you get a clearer picture of whatever you are seeking.

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will get an honest response but these tips should foster communication with your children, and others in your life, and help you feel more assured in the responses that you do get. 

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM