Only Answer the Question They Ask

Or “How Math Talk is Like the Sex Talk.” Did that get your attention? Hope so. but remember, this is a blog about teaching kids math, so…

Only answer the question they ask.

Parents joke about this rule as it applies to kids’ questions about human reproduction, but it applies to almost any subject. Even math.

We parents have a tendency to show off. We want to download all our hard-won knowledge to our kids. We want them to benefit from our experience. The intention is admirable.  Maybe it will give the kids a high perch from which to fly. Maybe it will save them from mucking around in confusion like we did. So we answer the question they ask and then some. We layer on more explanation, more detail, more examples. We add in a memory or two of our own past experiences. Which reminds us of something else, so we talk about that, too, just for good measure. The next time you get excited about teaching your kids something, observe yourself doing it…how much are you talking? How much are your kids listening?

As a math teacher, when my kids ask me a math question, I get so very excited. They are interested! I answer the question…then I often have the urge to continue. I want to point out a different way of finding the answer. I want to give them another example. I want to show how what they’ve asked connects to other questions and other topics.

Watch carefully when you do this. Observe the kids. You will know if they are with you or if they have checked out.

While the desire to share your vast knowledge is reasonable, the reality is that we start to sound like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon. Wah wah-wah wah wah.  The kids shut down when we do that. They put up a wall. They might even stop asking questions in the first place to avoid the monologue they are likely to hear.

They have to be ready to learn. Their own curiosity must drive them. You answer their question or throw out a tidbit of information. They mull it over. They think. They walk away. You let them. Sometime later they may walk back and ask the next question.

Resist the urge to anticipate the next question and answer it before it has even been asked. I know it’s hard, because I do this all the time. I tell my kids TOO much because, well, why wouldn’t they want to know?  They DO want to know, they just want to know in their own time. So, only answer the question they ask. Then pause. Make dinner. Do the laundry. Stretch. Whatever. Trust that in the next minute, hour, day, or year your child will come back to you with the next question, ready to hear the answer.



Photo credit: angela7dreams on / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: krembo1 on / CC BY-NC



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