Where Hijackers assume we know what other people think and feel and where they’re likely to end up if we don’t take control, Explorers assume nothing.
Instead, the Explorer seeks information only his child can provide but probably won’t volunteer unless she is asked.
“Just a moment,” someone is saying. “Asking, ‘Are you wearing your jacket?’ is a question.”
Okay fine, you got me on a technicality; it is a question. But, it’s a loaded question ... so it’s not a very good one.
Wayne Rice, one of the founders of Youth Specialties, offered this simple definition of a good question:
A good question is one to which you don’t have the answer.
I like that a lot and here’s why: Most of the questions adults ask are tricks. And nearly all the rest are tests. Adults so seldom ask for real information that most kids learn to assume they’re being tested or set up by adults most of the time.
The first time a child gives an honest answer to a question like, “What were you thinking!” that child learns that the question was rhetorical. He may not know what rhetorical means, but he soon figures out that an honest answer to a rhetorical question is a bad idea.
After a while, kids grow cagey, avoiding direct answers no matter what—much like politicians but for different reasons. They learn the art of misdirection and answering questions with questions. It would be funny to watch if it didn’t signal a profound absence of trust.
Into this madness comes the Explorer. Instead of asking, “Are you wearing your jacket?” she asks something like, “Do you have everything you need for your day?” perhaps adding, “What’s the weather look like?”
Everything I need for my day ... the youngster thinks. And if he’s learned to think through his day in advance (a skill encouraged by this kind of question) he will run a quick diagnostic on his preparation for the hours ahead. Jacket: Won’t need it. It’s cool now, but sunny with a high in the mid-sixties and only 20 percent chance of precip. Uh, let’s see... Food: Eating in the lunch room today; got money. What else... I have my books...omigosh! I have a game after school!
“Mom! I have a game after school! Can you pick me up?”
And there you have it: A boy arranging for transportation at 7:20 a.m. instead of scrambling for a ride at 5:20 p.m. It’s almost an afterthought that causes him to stuff his jacket into his gym bag on the way out the door. After all, he reasons, it’ll be after dark when I head home and the temperature really drops after sundown. The whole process takes maybe 15 seconds.
I hear cynical laughter at the back of the room. Your child is too stupid to learn that kind of intelligent processing. Is that what you’re saying?
Of course not. Your child’s other parent was a strong swimmer in a reasonably clear gene pool.
So, if you’re not saying that, please hear what I’m saying: The way to teach your child these skills is to stop Hijacking her chance to learn and learn to be an Explorer yourself. When asking good questions becomes a habit for you, providing thoughtful responses will become a habit for your child.
That’s the way it works. If your offspring exits your household without these reflective skills and must learn them the hard way, he won’t thank you for all the times your foresight kept him from freezing or starving. And if he ever reads this book he’ll be mad at you for Hijacking his opportunity to learn important skills at a time when the cost of learning was relatively low compared to the cost of learning them as an adult.
— from Raising Adults