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The Informed Parent

Please Ask The Right Question!

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 11, 2011


Asking the right question refers to life decisions and everyday choices. Let me give you an ordinary example, admittedly simplistic, but it will make my point clear.

The student comes home from school and asks himself the following question: “Do I want to do homework”?  The obvious answer is “No, I don’t. I’d rather play video games”. He then settles before the screen and games away. The night progresses and eventually no homework is done. At school the following day the erstwhile scholar has no work to turn in. He gets an F for that assignment. This incurs the wrath of his parents and punishment may be doled out.

What question should he have asked himself? Upon arriving home he should not have said to himself, “Do I want to do homework?” but “Do I want an F and the punishment and frustration that certainly will follow?”  This hopefully would have led to a better answer and outcome.

Let us look to the parents with an everyday example:

As we motor down the freeway we ask ourselves if we want to get to our destination sooner. Thus, we push harder on the gas pedal. We do move faster and maybe get to our destination sooner. That is, if the highway patrol does not hamper our progress by pulling us to the shoulder and presenting us with a citation.

What was the RIGHT question in this scenario? “Do I want a costly speeding ticket?”

It is easy to see how this pervades all aspects of our lives. Sometimes the questions have far reaching and serious consequences. Here is such an example:

I had admitted a six-month-old infant to my hospital service with meningitis. Fortunately, the infant was doing well but needed ten days of I.V. antibiotics. This could only be completed in the hospital.

On the third day of therapy the mother confronted me with her decision that she did not want to stay in the hospital any longer. She simply wanted to go home. She proclaimed that she was tired of being in the hospital and wanted to go home to provide care for her husband. I pointed out to her that she would be seriously risking the outcome of the case. That is, the baby could suffer significant brain damage if therapy was terminated with discharge from the hospital.

I suggested that she should not ask herself if she wanted to go home, but did she want to risk the chance of severe brain damage that could lead to life-long impairment.

She quickly responded “I don’t want brain damage. I just want to go home”. Calmly pointing out to her that one was mutually exclusive and she couldn’t have both, after a few minutes she understood what the right question was. The baby completed his antibiotic course and sustained no nervous system damage.

The recommendation to ask yourself the right question is applicable to all age groups and all situations. The concept is not profound but demands honest evaluation.

To clearly show how we can apply this basic thought to everyday life I will present many scenarios in coming chapters. If you ask the right question one’s life is simpler and results are truly what you want. 

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