Blog Post | Activate Curiosity to Influence Behavior
Activate Curiosity to Influence Behavior
On one call with a young client, I spent nearly an hour listening to him describe, in detail, the intricacies of his dungeons and dragons game. Afterward, his mother asked me how I can possibly listen so attentively to that very, very long explanation. The answer is very simple. First, I don’t have kids of my own, so I have a little more brain space for that kind of thing than she does as his mother. But also – and maybe more importantly – as a coach, I’m trained to be curious about everything, and stay that way even when my mind might want to pull me toward an assumption or a judgment.
I recommend to all the parents I speak to that they practice authentic curiosity with their kids. It’s one of a parent’s most powerful tools, but it can also be challenging to practice daily with your kids! After all, how often can you listen to your 12-year-old tell you about his Magic The Gathering deck before you’ve lost all interest and just want to ensure he’s done his homework?
Parents don’t often hone this curiosity skill when children are younger, because most of their time is spent telling their child what to do in a way that they can hear. But as a child ages, you may notice that telling a teenager what to do is not often successful. This is where practicing curiosity can positively impact your relationship with your child and your success rate of getting them to do the right thing. Asking questions rather than making statements gives your teen more autonomy in the rules, boundaries, and requirements you’re presenting them with. It also gives you more influence over their behavior.
This may seem counterintuitive but bear with me. Teenagers with ADHD rarely consider the long-term impacts of their actions, how those actions might impact those around them, the possibility of other perspectives, and any number of other nuanced aspects of decision-making. ADHD teens also struggle to problem-solve and think toward a goal. So, by asking questions and being curious, you’re encouraging your teen to think critically about their goal. You’re helping them develop the skill of considering what a particular action or process is doing for them. And those questions can influence your teen’s thinking and, more importantly, the way they think without causing the tension that “telling them what to do” may cause.
For example, I once had a teenager tell me he can’t read books for school because he can’t focus on them. In the next breath, he explained to me how he could focus on a book about business principles, and told me he did that by taking notes in the margins. I could have told him outright that he should take notes in the margins of all of his school books, then. But that probably wouldn’t have landed well because it was my idea and my perspective, not his. Instead, I allowed him the autonomy to figure that out for himself, with some guiding questions from me about what worked with that one book, and what might happen if he tried that with his other books. He got to the answer I wanted by himself, and he got to feel proud of his solution, making him more likely to act on it.
This story also highlights something I see a lot in people with ADHD, including myself: we often don’t evaluate our successes as much as we do our failures. By being curious about what worked for my client in the past, how it worked and why, and how it might work better in the future, etc., I gave my client the opportunity to focus for a bit on that past success. The client was able to use that as a jumping-off point to think toward his goal of better understanding his textbooks. Additionally, because we spent 30 minutes talking about and evaluating his success, the client is now more likely to recall that success, and utilize the information he gleaned from our analysis in future experiences.
Being authentically curious gives your child the autonomy they are seeking, and it gives you the influence you are seeking. It encourages your child to practice the skill of thinking toward a goal and makes them feel proud of their past accomplishments and excited to try something new. If you ask me, that’s much better than the rebellion that is so common due to telling your teen what’s best for them!
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC