Socratic parenting

“I started confused, and I ended confused, but on a higher level” (paraphrased). I’ve heard this quote attributed to Alfred North Whitehead on philosophy. Since that’s philosophy about philosophy, that qualifies as… (wait for it)…


Like how metacognition is thinking about thinking. Anyway… After some Google-searching (like just a couple minutes’ worth), I’m still not sure who actually first coined the phrase. But who cares.


At home one weekend, my youngest daughter (at the time) wanted to watch TV. She asked me while I was in the kitchen, “Dad, where’s the TV remote?”

As any philosopher, I responded to her question with another question. “Where have you tried looking?”

She said, “Well, where should I have begun looking?” She was 7!

I was impressed. I came back with, “What about the living room, where the TV is?”

She asked yet another question back at me! “If it were there, why do you think I’d be asking you?” Damn!

She persuaded me into looking for the remote for her. Turns out, it fell beneath the couch where she couldn’t easily see or reach it.

She did this because I made a habit of responding to their questions with more questions. Not just any questions, but questions that implied direction, solution or something more, better, to help my kids become stronger thinkers.


The word truth has at least three different meanings, and like many expressions with multiple meanings, that makes it easier for people to equivocate (confuse the same expression for another meaning).

Once, after dinner, I asked my eldest daughter to put away the dishes. When I later asked if she did, she said yes. I checked. I found dishes in the sink.

I asked, wrongly, “Hey, what’s with the sink? Why’d you lie about it?”

She hit me with a genius question, “What?! If you get a question wrong on a test, does that mean you’re lying?”

She got me thinking. We found that after she left, someone else added more dishes to the sink. She didn’t know about it.

Her question really impressed me. The word truth could refer to honesty (subject) or it could refer to accuracy (object). It could also refer to ideal, a value or expression of what should be (vs. what is), but that wasn’t our discussion at the moment.

She told the truth, in that she was honest.

The statement was false, in that it was inaccurate.

I was wrong, and she helped show me that.

In a field exercise a few years back, my battalion commander (BN CDR) asked aloud in our tent, “Hey! Who stole my phone charger?!” Then he huffed and puffed away, presumably searching for it.

He also later accused me of losing his night vision optical device (NOD). His NOD was acting up; batteries, maybe. He asked if we could trade. I didn’t have a rhino mount on my helmet anyway to use the NOD as normal. Luckily, I used my phone to take photos of both my hand receipt and the serial number on the device itself.

He didn’t remember trading NODs with me several weeks later when he misplaced mine. He had a habit of misplacing things. My photos showed that I didn’t lose his. He lost mine. I still had his device; I tied a cord attaching it to my kit. He later found the missing NOD.


I knew a soldier once who claimed to be a pacifist. I knew what his NCOs thought of him. It seemed as if he just hated his job and was putting forth an act to get him out of the military as a conscientious objector.

He made this comment about being a pacifist just prior to some hand-to-hand combatives training. I got him to participate in the training, and not because I outranked him.

After a few minutes of hearing him talk about it, I asked, “I can admire that you’d never choose violence. Does that mean that violence will never choose you?”

He paused. I continued. “What if the violence chooses your family? Your friends? And what if you can’t reason it out with the violence?”

Still no comment from him. I said, “Are we training to become abusive toward others? Or are we training to stop abuse after reason fails? How about you join us at least for the warm-up exercises?”

He participated in all of it. The smaller commitments of hearing us out on the purpose of it all, then just exercising a little bit in the beginning, eventually led to him rolling on the mat with others. It became a puzzle, a game. It became fun.

I remember framing that first drill as simply asking one half of the participants to get out from beneath their partner in 60 seconds, while the partner aims to center his weight and balance himself on top.

If the participant beneath gets out, just reset and continue. After 60 secs, I had them switch roles. Then, switch partners. Gradually, I made training more intense. Everyone participated fully. Good training had by all.