How To Ask Questions

Two kinds of questions are recommended when you talk with children about child abuse or neglect. Each has a different purpose. When you are asking a child about something that could be awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing, shameful, or sensitive, open-ended questions give you the best chance of getting the whole story. When you need specific facts, who, when, and where, closed-ended questions are useful.

Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a yes or no. These questions are used to paint a big picture, to help you gain information from a child in his or her own words. Open-ended questions allow the child to tell the full story without being influenced by the question itself, painting the big picture for you so that you can understand the circumstances around an injury or behavior pattern.


  • I notice that you have a bruise. How did it happen?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • You seem to get angry when I asked you that question. (Pause to allow child to respond.)

You may need to follow up with closed-ended questions. These are questions that can be answered with a yes or no, or a simple factual response. Closed-ended questions are the "who, what, when, where, why" questions that help you collect specific facts about a situation.

In response to open-ended question, child says, "My father hit me."

  • Where did this happen?
  • Why did he hit you?
  • What did he hit you with?
  • How often does this happen?

Exception: If you have information that leads you to suspect that sexual contact has occurred between a parent (or person legally responsible) and a child, you don’t need to ask additional questions. This is because any type of sexual contact between a parent and child is always reportable. Call the Child Abuse Hotline immediately.