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  • Dr. Marc Komori Stager

"Why" questions are blaming questions and get defensive answers

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Use why questions with caution; they are inherently blaming. When people feel blamed, they tend to defend themselves. If you ask a why question, expect a defensive answer. If you really want a downward spiral, ask a why question, then blame the other person for their defensive answer.

Want to try it out on yourself?

· Why do you always ask me to take out the trash?

· Why are you taking my phone away?

· Why do you always want to talk about this?

· Why did you send me to therapy?

Did you feel the blame? Did you find yourself reacting defensively?

Imagine how your child might feel when you ask blaming why questions.

· Why are you whining?

· Why do I have to ask for the trash to be taken out?

· Why are there dirty dishes in your room?

· Why are your grades so low?

Want to start a big fight? Ask your child’s other parent, “Why didn’t you pick her up after soccer practice?”

Use any of those other reporter questions, who, what, when, where, and how. Let’s take one example, dirty dishes in your child’s room.

· What is the rule for eating in your room?

· Where do dirty dishes belong?

· What stopped you from following that rule?

· Who or what convinced you it was okay this time to break the rule?

· When are you most susceptible to breaking this rule?

· How might stand up for our family rule next time hunger/convenience/playing video games/a desire to be alone tempts you to eat in your room?

· What are some ideas for a consequence for this? What might be the consequence for the next time?

Notice that you can get the same information with these non-blaming questions. Also notice that I’m using restraint questions. These questions assume someone is capable of good behavior, but something else prevented them from doing so. More information on how assuming a restraint kept someone from doing well, see its own blog post.

As you imagine your child’s responses to these questions, do they seem as defensive as they would be to a why question?

There is one redeeming use of why questions. You can use it to blame your child for something good. To continue with our dishes example, you might ask, “Why did you decide to take your dishes to the kitchen?” Why do you think I might be pleased that you took your dishes to the kitchen sink?

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