TLP 144: Why "Why" Is More Important Than “What" | asking the right questions to reveal the wrong heart
Asking questions is vital to good parenting. But some questions are better than others. Join AMBrewster as he flips conventional wisdom on its head and helps Christian parents understand God’s plan for their parenting.
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Welcome back, friends. I pray our last episode with Dr. Mark Shaw was a blessing to many of you. I know many parents have never considered the possibility of their child being addicted to something or harming themselves, but it’s not something about which we can afford to be ignorant.
Thankfully, today’s topic won’t be as weighty as our last one was.
Still, it’s a tool we’ll need to use every single day.
But before we jump in, I’d like to invite you to take a minute or two to rate and review Truth.Love.Parent. If you’re listening to us via the Apple Podcast app, it’s super simple. You can also rate and review us on Facebook. If you follow us there, that should be really easy too.
It’s a huge blessing to us and it’s a great way to encourage other parents who are searching for a show that can help them grow in their parenting.
One more thing before we move on, we’ve just concluded a study of biblical love that took us the entire month of February and a bunch of March. If you haven’t heard that and taken your family through The Four Family Loves series, I cannot encourage you enough to do so.
Alright, so why is why more important than what?
If you’ve ever read about or studied communication then you’ve probably heard that asking “what” questions are better than asking “why” questions.
“What” questions get the individual thinking about concrete concepts, actions, and desires; whereas “why” questions tend to lead people into ethereal, philosophical, and abstract directions.
So, instead of asking your child, “Why did you hit your brother?” We’re encouraged to ask, “What were you trying to do to your brother?
It’s really easy for a child to respond, “I don’t know,” to either question, but generally the “what” question is easier to answer.
Let’s be honest, your kids don’t think though much of what they do. It’s too easy to feel our way through lives. If something feels good or vaguely seems to be beneficial to my life, I’ll be super tempted to do it. And the less conscious thought I put into it, the better the chances are I’ll take what appears to be the easier or more comfortable way.
When a child hits his sibling, more often than not, he wants to hurt the child. That seems simple enough for us, but — man — ask a kid why he hit his sister and you’ll get glazed eyes. “What did you do?” is easier to answer than “Why did you do it?” because I can think back to my actual actions and recite it to you.
But if I didn’t put a lot of thought into the why, I’ll likely look like a cow staring at an oncoming train. I’ll be trying to figure the answer out while you’re interpreting my hesitation as disrespect or rebellion.
And if I say “I don’t know,” that will probably annoy you too.
So, those are just some reasons parents are encouraged to ask “what” questions instead of “why” questions.
And, I agree with those reasons.
But, we’re trying to be intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parents. So, we need to give a little more thought to this concept than most.
And over time, the general framework of our conversations with our children will start to look very different from the average parent/child encounter.
And this is good. We need to be changing and growing and becoming more like Christ in the way we talk with our kids.
And speaking of Jesus, He did ask a lot of “what” questions.
When we look at the Scripture we see that Jesus asked over 300 questions! Now, of course, He asked many more that weren’t recorded, but that number stands out because God found it important to record those questions.
He also found it important to record that Jesus was asked 183 questions, but that we only read of Him answering 3.
If we add all the questions God the Father asked, we once again see the power of the question. And that’s something we’ve discussed a lot on this show.
But let’s take a minute to consider some of Jesus’ questions.
In Matthew 5:46 He asks, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” This is a good reminder of our love study. But key-in on the fact that He asks, “what reward to you have.”
In Matthew 16:26 He asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
But Jesus also asks a ton of “why” questions:
“Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26)
“Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew 19:17)
“Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18)
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
So, we must not completely jettison the “why’s” from our vocabulary.
In fact, I think our very own children are a perfect example of the importance of “why.”
“Why do I have to take a bath?” Our kids don’t ask, “What are the five reasons taking a bath is beneficial for me?”
They ask their siblings, “Why won’t you share?” They don’t ask, “What are you trying to do to me by not sharing?”
And we simply have to acknowledge the fact that motivation is — in fact — everything.
That’s what makes the “why” so important.
In episode 138 we asked, “What do our children need to do to obey?” And the answers are pretty straightforward — they need to do everything God commands.
But in episode 140, we asked “Why should our children obey?” That question was significantly more involved and spoke to a deeper root issue in all of us. In fact, it was through that study and our Four Children series (which started in episode 55) that we saw the danger of children who do the right things for the wrong reasons.
So, the three-fold goal for today’s show is quite simple:
1. We need to be constantly reminded — and we need to constantly remind our children — of the importance of why we do what we do. Why we do what we do is our worldview, it’s our philosophy of life, it’s our belief system. And — like we learned in The Merest Christianity series — why we do what we do is the most important question we can ask.
2. I want to provide some context so we can know if we should be asking “what” questions or “why” questions.
3. And lastly, we need to always be ready to answer the “why” even if we don’t ask it.
So, I think we’ve already covered our first goal. Why we do what we do is vital to understanding ourselves in light of God’s Word. Understanding why your kids do what they do will make your job as a parent incredibly easier. And if you didn’t hear that series, you can start listening in on episode 95.
So, the second goal for today is to better understand when we should ask the “why” questions versus the “what” questions.
Here are some simple guidelines:
1. If you’re trying to determine behavior, ask “what.”
It makes sense to ask “What did you do that earned you a demerit?” if you’re curious about the behavior.
If you’re trying to figure out what they did, but you were to ask, “Why did your teacher give you a demerit?” you’re probably going to have to work around answers like, “Because she hates me,” before getting to the reality of the situation.
However, once you understand what your child did to earn the demerit, you can ask, “Why did you continue talking to your friend after the teacher told you to stop?” Here you’re interested in motive, not behavior. It’s likely not going to be super important what was said. Your child may actually try to tell you about what they were talking and imply that the content of the conversation justified the disobedience. But — unless it was a legitimate emergency — the reality is that obedience to the teacher is far more important than whatever had to be said to the friend.
So, what’s more important, the cold hard facts or the motivation?
I believe understanding the facts is vital to parenting well. We can’t afford to parent on here-say or assumption.
However, as we’ve already seen, the truly life-changing aspects of parenting deal with the belief behind the behavior.
2. If you’re trying to help your child understand consequences, ask “what.”
“What do you think will happen if continue lying to people?” This question asks them to consider the concrete consequences of their actions.
However, “Why does God have such heavy consequences for liars?” is moving beyond what God’s doing to why He does it.
3. If you’re trying to determine desire, ask “what.”
“What did you want?” might sound like a question about motivation, but as we learned in The Merest Christianity, the motivation for our desires is truly the more important thing about us.
So, we may ask, “What did you want so badly that you stole that money?”
And your daughter may reply, “I wanted to buy a new iPod.”
But, if you stop there, parenting becomes a game of reorienting desire. But there’s only one real way to change desires, and we’ll get to that reality much quicker if we ask, “Why did you think it was okay to take someone else’s money.”
And — obviously — 4. If you’re trying to determine motive, ask “why.”
So, now let’s springboard into our last concept for today.
I want to take some of the examples we’ve already discussed and use them to understand that we always need to address the “why” even if we don’t ask it.
Let’s look at the same three questions to determine behavior, consequences, desire, and motive, and then parent on those levels.
1. “What did you do that earned you a demerit?”
“I kept talking in class when I was told not to.”
“You need to listen to your teacher. I don’t want to hear that you’ve been talking in class anymore.”
2. “What do you think will happen if you continue lying to people?”
“People won’t trust me.”
“That’s right. Do you want people not to trust you your whole life?”
3. “What did you want so badly that you stole that money from her?”
“I wanted to buy a new iPod.”
“You can’t just take someone else’s money. If you wanted a new iPod, you could have just told me about it, and we could have found a Christ-honoring way for you to buy one.”
Each of those examples addresses the child’s answer to the question and provides a direction for life. But what was truly communicated? Were those examples of good parenting?
In the first example I “laid down the law” that my child must obey her teacher. But I don’t yet know why my daughter disobeyed in the first place.
What if she talked in class because she wanted to spite the teacher? What if her friend had an argument with her parents and — in my daughter’s immaturity — she thought it was an emergency? What if she was talking in class because her friend was contemplating suicide later that night and it was a real emergency? What if my child didn’t hear the teacher’s instruction because she was wrapped up in her own little world? What if my daughter was bored in school because she’s not being challenged?
Each of these situations will drastically change the way I parent my daughter and the depth to which I can parent my child. But if I deal only with the behavior, I’m doing my daughter a huge disservice.
In the second example I helped my child understand that his lying is going to cost him in the long run. But is that what I want motivating him?
Do we want our children praying to God just so they don’t have to go to hell? Do we want our kids doing right simply because of the pleasure and satisfaction it will afford? We discussed this in grand detail in episode 140 and 98.
The reality is that God cares just as much about the motivation as He does the behavior. He never accepts sinful behavior done from a noble desire, but He also refuses good behavior when it grows from selfishness.
And the last example is really important too. So, my daughter steals money, and I tell her that God isn’t glorified by stealing, and I provide her an answer to future temptation. That one sounded good, right?
Well, again, we have to ask why she stole the money.
Was it because she hated the other girl for hurting her and wanted to hurt her back; the iPod was just a secondary desire?
Did she steal the money because she doesn’t trust God to supply all her needs?
Did she steal the money because she’s materialistic?
Did she steal the money because she’s discontent and covets things she doesn’t have?
Or was it all of the above?
Again, I can parent much better with a solid understanding of motive than I can a superficial grasp of the behavior, the desire, and the consequences.
So, how do we get to the motive in our parenting?
I believe the best way to get to the motive is by asking the “why” questions.
Yes, you can simply tell your child the problem. This is a huge temptation for me. I’ve been doing what I do for so long, I can generally tell people everything they’re doing wrong in life after spending only five to fifteen minutes with them.
And there are times you need to get right to the heart of the issue by telling your children why they did what they did.
In episodes 115 and 116 we discussed Speed Parenting. Speed Parenting is getting to the heart of the issue even when there seems to be no time. This world is so crazy busy and our schedules are so jam-packed, Speed Parenting keeps us from the temptation to be superficial in our parenting.
Those episodes acknowledged that Speed Parenting only works well once we’ve taught the foundational truths.
So, by extension, asking the “why” questions become really important early on. They help our child work through the information we’ve taught them and draw personal conclusions.
Once they’ve gotten into a good habit of being able to see the motivation for their sinful behavior, the parent may be able to stop asking the “why” questions and simply stating the motive.
Now obviously there’s a ton of flexibility in these concepts, but generally speaking I would encourage parents to do the following:
There will always be new lessons to learn, new foundations to be laid, new self-understanding to be drawn out via “why” questions, and new opportunities for Speed Parenting.
And — in the end — we’ll be intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parents who build habits of purposeful, heart-level parenting.
I hope you were built up and blessed by today’s episode. If you were, will you please share it on social media.
And if you’d like to have a hardcopy of today’s episode notes, you can find them for free on our blog, Taking Back the Family. The link is in the description.
On our next episode we’ll discuss how to have “A Valuable Family.” I hope you’ll join us for that. That episode will not only teach us what’s valuable, but it will also give you another little sneak peek into the Brewster home.
Some of you are just weird enough to be excited about that.
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The Bible has everything you need for life and godliness, and we’re here to give you practical ways of using God’s Truth.
So, I’ll see you next time.
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