May 9, 2012

Repeated Questioning!

Many children on and off the spectrum engage in repeated questioning. Many parents find this very exhausting and hard to decrease. Children can engage in repeated questioning for variety of reasons.

1. Some children, who are insecure, will do it for reassurance about the issue they are questioning about. Uncertainty of the immediate future is very anxiety provoking. These children need to constantly know what is coming up to feel secure. Questioning becomes a way of making the world more clear, consistent, and predictable.

2. Some children experience anticipatory anxiety (strong excitement about what is coming up) and will continually question as a way of coping with anticipation.

3. Some children who want attention will repeatedly ask the same question as a way of interacting, getting attention. This occurs especially if they either do not know how to get attention in other more appropriate ways, or if the intensity of reaction they get from questioning is much stronger then what they get for appropriately initiating interaction.

There are a few behavioral techniques that have worked successfully with several children:

1. Answering the child once when they repeat a question, then telling them that is the last time they will answer. From then on in, the parent gives no verbal response. They may shake their head no, but not give a verbal answer. In all cases, the parent’s verbal answer is what reinforces the child to ask again. This is discussed with the child ahead of time, so he knows the parent will not verbally answer anymore.  

 2. For some children answering only once is not enough, so you might answer no more than three times. Then with each answer you count them off. When you hit three that is it.

3. Some children will inhibit the response if you repeat the question to them. So the second time they ask you the question, “Are we going to McDonalds for dinner?”, you say “Bobby, are we going to McDonalds for dinner?” They will usually give you the answer, and stop repeating the question.

4. For an older teen, who could read and write, we would answer the repeated question one time, then had him write down the answer and carry it with him. If he asked again, the parent would refer him to his note. Another technique that has worked is writing the answer down on a note board and referring the child to that board. This worked well, since the verbal response is what reinforces the repeated questioning.

5. This next technique is for children who find it real difficult to stop, so we gradually decrease the behavior as the child becomes more controlled in refraining from questioning. It is more complex but has worked well.

a. The parent keeps track, for a couple of days, of how frequently the child repeatedly questions during the day (let’s say an average of six times a day) and how many repetitions of a question the child averages (let’s say five repetitions of a question). Then from there we write a plan to start gradually decreasing those frequencies (the number of repetitions of each question, and the number of times a day repeated questioning occurs.

b. To decrease the number of repetitions child gives per question, if the average frequency is five, we would start by answering the child up to four times. We would tell the child that we can only give up to four responses. Each time the child repeated the question, the parent responds “this is number one” and answers the question. Then each response starts with “this in number 2, 3 or 4” and answers the question. At the forth time the parent reminds the child they cannot answer it again. If the child stops asking, the parent will praise the child, If the child asked again, the parent shakes her head no, and gives the child the manual sign for “no”. The parent does not give another “verbal answer” to the question, regardless of how intense the child gets. When the child gets used to asking only up to four times, then we decrease to three times. We gradually decrease to twice and only once.

c. Now, we want to reward the child for stopping at the predetermined number of repetitions, as well as decrease the number of repeated questionings throughout the day. In this example, the child averages repeated questioning six times a day. We start at that number. We make a laminated chart with six boxes on it. We also post a picture of a few rewards that the child can earn next to the board. For each time the child engages in repeated questioning, when he doesn’t stop at four, the parent puts a cross, or frown face, in one of the boxes (with an erasable marker). The parent tells the child that if there is at least one box left by a certain time of the evening, the child will get their choice of one of the rewards. So, in this case, if the child has four or less times when he doesn’t stop repeated questioning, he will earn a reward. This way, we start with were the child is at, teach him how to earn the reward, and then slowly started reducing the number of boxes (chances) he has to earn the reward. So for step b above, when the child asks for the fifth time, the mother shakes her head no, gives manual sign for “no”, and walks over and crosses out one of the squares. If the child has at least one box left by the evening, he gets his choice of reward. If he has all five boxes crossed off, parent shows him, tells him he cannot get the reward tonight, but he can try again tomorrow.

Another way you can work this, is using the same style board, give the child a star in each box each time he stops the questioning at the predetermined amount without going over. So, if the child stops at four repetitions, the parent praises him, and gives him a star to put on his chart. Once he earns the right number of stars he earns a reward.

6. Another technique is to answer the child once or twice. Then the next time the child asks, you tell him you will not answer that question again, and ask him a simple question to redirect him. This way you are redirecting him to talk about something else. If he doesn’t answer, but asks his question instead, you continue to ignore his question and continue to ask him your question until he answers. If he answers your question and goes back to his, you simply ask another question about the issue you want to talk about and keep focusing on what you are asking him. Eventually they learn to take the redirection and converse on what you want to talk about.

Remember almost all of the techniques focuses on 1) stop rewarding his repeated questioning with “verbal answers” and 2) focusing (rewarding) him for responding the way you want him to do.
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