The Most Important Question in Parenting

As a parent, we are faced with a number of challenges. We have to learn to balance our lives, manage our households, and raise and train our children to be outstanding members of the society they are going to live in.

We raise them to be good, to work hard, and to treat others well. We expect them to make themselves proud, and hopefully us in the process.

All the while we are navigating waters we have never been on. There is no instruction book, no certification program or license required. We are effectively dropped into the deep end and we just have to figure it out.

Failing is not an option. Giving up doesn’t work.

We stumble through, making mistakes along the way, hoping that we aren’t making mistakes that our kids won’t be able to forgive us for.

What a task!  Where else in life are we tasked with such an important goal, given the responsibility for something so valuable…and with so little preparation?  I can’t think of a place.

Parenting can be tough!

It can also be the most amazing and rewarding experience of a lifetime!  The feeling of watching our kids grow into productive, happy, and successful adults is unmatched by anything else I have ever experienced.

And it’s a rough road.

I will never forget when I learned the most important question I have ever learned as a parent.  My dad taught me about it when I was struggling with my daughter and I was just beginning to explore NLP.

He shared how powerful this question was, and we talked about the impacts it could have on my girls.

First, he pointed out a very valuable fact about our minds. And this is something that has served me well in countless situations over the years, from coaching to negotiations to personal relationships.

If we ask our mind a question, it can’t help but generate an answer.  

Now, I could go on and on about this, but that is for another time.

Today what matters is how this relates to parenting.

So, the mind generates answers to questions it’s asked. And this is true regardless of the question. The subconscious mind will entertain the question and do its best to find an answer.

So, after explaining this all to me, which made total sense, he shared what would become one of the most powerful questions I would ever learn.

And then what?

That’s it. “And then what?”  I have used this question repeatedly, with myself and my daughters, and every time it has been successful. This single question has been used in everyday conversations, when we are planning events and vacations, to overcome anorexia, and manage anxiety and fear.

Be prepared to ask it several times, and that’s ok. The secret is to allow them to get to the true issue/concern/fear/goal.  Once that has been named you can work on the real issue at hand, not the one you’re getting from the conscious level.

The key to the power of this question is repetition. You continue asking “And then what” until they don‘t have any other answers.  Eventually, they will simply say “I don’t know.”

And oftentimes, it’s the “I don’t know” that is the scariest. Once that’s been identified the fear may dissipate on its own.

Imagine your child is getting anxious about something. They are really uncomfortable and just can’t get past it. Maybe it’s an upcoming test, public speaking, leaving home for the first time…whatever it is it is causing them anxiety and robbing them of enjoying the experience.

How could it change the conversation if, instead of the normal reassurances that everything would be ok, you simply asked “And then what?”

It invites them to imagine what might happen if their fear comes true. Then you can deal with what their true fear is, which is most often not what they are verbalizing.

Now imagine you have a child who is super excited about something, but you know they haven’t thought it all the way through. What if, instead of pointing out all of the things they haven’t thought of, you invite them to come up with things by asking “And then what?”

Notice how this encourages them to come up with possibilities themselves. You are no longer the downer on the conversation or the one who doesn’t believe in them. You are the one who is helping them figure out how to make it happen.

It’s common to think about this questioning pattern and get nervous. What if their answer to one of the “And then what” questions is truly terrifying? What if it’s something you’re not prepared to answer?  What if it scares you?

If that happens, then at least you will know what your child is facing, and you’ll be able to approach it together. You’ll be able to support them through their fear and create a plan of action to do your best to protect against their fears.

Now, let’s consider another time in parenting that this question is helpful. Imagine you are at the end of your rope. You are frustrated and not feeling very resourceful at all. You aren’t sure what to do next and are struggling with the best course of action.

What happens if, instead of getting stuck around what to do next, you asked yourself “And then what?” What would the answer to that question allow you to do?

Odds are good it would allow you to explore the next steps, maybe even come up with some possibilities you hadn’t initially considered.

Wouldn’t that be empowering? A nice, friction-free way to break the cycle of frustration and move toward resolution?

By asking ourselves, or someone else, that question we are inviting our minds to explore other options. We are asking our subconscious to figure out what the concern is and explore ways around it.

Next time you are struggling, or your children are, try this question. Remember to ask it until they don’t know what the “And then what” is. I promise it will change the conversation.

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