Any parent of a toddler can relate, I’m sure, with that feeling you get the eight millionth time a certain little person asks “why.” The temptation to respond with a flip answer, or “go ask someone else,” or “just because” is always there, and so hard to resist when you’re just trying to get something else done. But no matter how tired, cranky, or busy we are, it’s crucial to keep that sense of curiosity alive in children. Frustrating as it can be to answer the same question over and over, or the fiftieth new question of the day about the details of aardvark dentistry, that spark only stays lit for so long if it’s not encouraged.
What are some ways we can do that? I can think of a few, but welcome your additions to the list. Especially since most of the time I really have no idea what I’m doing with this parenting stuff. So here’s my two cents. And of course now that the list is out here in public, I’ll have to work even harder at practicing what I preach here!
- Take a deep breath before answering. This helps put a moment in there as a spacer before we might give a flippant or snappish answer. Or to see if we even know the answer.
- If you don’t know the answer, go look it up together. This is the kind of good thing Google can be used for, after all. And it will prevent you from saying you don’t know or making something up, while being a nice bonding and teaching moment. We want to establish sound research and reasoning principles here, after all.
- Answer with a question. Hey, it worked for Socrates! Plus you might get a fascinating response when you reply with, “Well, why do you think elephants are so big?” Kids do say the darndest things sometimes.
- Put it off gently and temporarily. If you just can’t handle one more question, suggest writing it down and finding the answer later, perhaps after dinner. And after mommy has a nice glass of wine.
So, what is my list of strategies missing? How can we encourage the future scientists, engineers, and problem-solvers of our world to keep asking questions and seeking answers?