Say NO! (To yes/no questions)

Have you ever found yourself asking your child to do something and it goes like this….

  • You: “Do you want to help me clean up?”
  • Child: “no.”

In all fairness you did “ask” if they wanted to clean up.

Aside from “asking” instead of “telling” children to do something they may not be thrilled to do, yes/no questions can limit a child’s opportunity to practice more elaborate responses to questions.

How about the scenario of trying to ask a child about their day…

  • You: “Did you have fun at school today?”
  • Child: “Yes.”
  • You: “But didn’t you get to watch a movie and have popcorn?”
  • Child: “yep!”
  • You: “And was the movie good?”
  • Child: “uh-huh.”

So you get where I am going with this. You end up doing ALL the talking, and by the third or so question your child is going to interrupt you and ask for goldfish crackers because they are completely checked out (and kids are always hungry). When conversing with a child the goal is to use about as many words as they use with equal turn taking.

Here are some tips to avoid the “pitfalls” of yes/no questions:

  • “Tell” versus “ask” when a child actually doesn’t have a choice. Think cleaning up, getting ready for bed, giving you your phone back (isn’t this a fun one?).
  • Ask “open-ended” questions. Going back to asking a child about their day at school, some questions you could ask are “Tell me something different that happened today,” or “Why did you get to have a special treat?”
  • While reading books ask “predictive” questions such as “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “How do you think they are going to save the animals?” Bonus- this is an important literacy skill!
  • Ask opinion questions that have no right/wrong answer. I almost always ask the question, “What was your favorite part of the book?” It is amazing how many kids aren’t sure how to answer this because they aren’t being “tested.” It is super fun to hear their often unexpected responses.

So yes, there is a time and a place for yes/no questions. However, I think in general they tend to get over-used which makes talking with kids feel like pulling teeth. 

Does this have you thinking about ways to re-phrase questions to your child? (See what I did there?) How do you think you can use less yes/no questions to support your child’s language development?



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