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Asking vs. Telling: A Strategy for Thinking & Independence

Weconomy: un cervello di cervelliIn my last blog I addressed the issue of teaching our kids the skills they need versus doing the skills for them. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is their independence.

Obviously, not every child on the spectrum has the same capabilities for being independent. That is a judgment call that only those around a child can make. But even then, there are differences in how one parent versus another sees their child’s abilities or one professional versus another.

My general philosophy is to give a child the benefit of the doubt, and slowly provide more and more support as they need it rather than the reverse of providing the support and then withdrawing it.

Although this will not work for all children, I have found that it’s easier to add supports where necessary instead of making our children dependent and then removing those supports.

Too often children become dependent on our continuous prompts, directions, and supports making it near impossible to think for themselves.

A strategy I often use (and teach to parents and teachers) is to learn to ASK your child the question they need to ask themselves, rather than telling them what to do.

After all, how many parents and teachers wouldn’t be happier if they could stop telling their children all the time what they needed to do? Some independence would be a welcome break for the adults and certainly a welcome skill for the kids.

For example, when you are getting a child ready for school, instead of saying, “get your backpack” or “do you have your books?” ASK, “What do you need for school?” and then after your child starts to understand this, which may take a day or weeks, start ASKING, “what question do you need to ask yourself before we leave for school?” Then, after a few days, wait and simply look at your child before heading out the door without asking any questions to see if he initiates the question on his own and get’s his backpack.

The quicker you can withdraw prompts, the easier it is to live without them. If a child knows he can always count on you to ask the questions, he never has to do it himself.

So often parents would come to therapy and say something like, “He just has to look at you and he does it, but I have to say it 10 times at home!” I suggest looking at who is teaching whom?

That’s not meant as a criticism of parents! So, please no comments about my not understanding. I do understand and I do get it. But, we have to start looking at what we do and how our actions influence our children regardless of their best intent.

If a strategy works – great. If it doesn’t – fine. We have to keep adding tools to the tool chest of strategies that can help our children adapt and develop into the best they can be and that means as thinking individuals and independent as possible for them.

Creative Commons License photo credit: weconomy book

Asking vs. Telling: A Strategy for Thinking & Independence

Diane Yapko, MA

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APA Reference
Yapko, D. (2010). Asking vs. Telling: A Strategy for Thinking & Independence. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Nov 2010
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