Kids ask questions. Some kids ask A LOT of questions. While advice on dealing with questions can range from revisiting the question at a later time to asking your child what he or she thinks the answer is, I believe this powerful phrase can shape the way your child looks at questions for the rest of their life: “I don’t know . . . but let’s find out.”
It’s not always easy to admit when we don’t know something, but using this phrase with your child can help teach them several important things about you, about themselves, and about the way the world works:
- It’s okay to not have all of the answers. Right now, you are one of, if not THE most important person in your child’s life. They look to you, and even if they don’t always show it, they want to be like you. Model the attitude that it’s okay not to know the answer to everything right now.
- There are ways to find answers when you have questions. While the questions your child is asking might seem tough right now, remember that this is only the beginning of a lifetime of knowledge-seeking and question-asking! As your child grows, their questions probably won’t get any easier. It’s valuable to show children now that there are good sources and bad sources, that there are efficient ways to get information, and that the quest for knowledge can be half of the fun. Your child has always been a scientist; show them that gathering information is part of life!
- There is always more to learn. While your child might see you as an expert in every field, even experts are still learning. How would science or technology ever reach new heights if we were satisfied with the answers we already have? As one author says, admitting ignorance has often been the “catalyst for discovery” throughout history. Your interest in learning can help foster curiosity in your child and can help them see that the learning process is never done.
Joining your child in learning something new can also lead to cherished memories. For example, I have a very specific memory of me at 10 years old, reading over my mom’s shoulder about some of the work my grandfather was doing in his field of pharmaceutical chemistry. Surprising to no one but 10-year-old me, maybe, there were a lot of terms I didn’t understand, and a lot of terms my mom didn’t understand either. Instead of making something up or telling me it didn’t really matter when I asked, she turned to me and said, “You know, I don’t really know what those words mean, either. Let’s ask Grandpa together.” She then composed an email to my grandfather. He wrote back explaining the words and what they meant, and my mom then made up a song about it which we laughed about for years. (This is also, coincidentally, why I can’t hear Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful of Sugar” without thinking about cryoprotective agents. Some things just stay with you.)
You make a difference. Some evidence suggests that parental engagement with their children’s learning in the home makes the greatest difference in their achievement as students. And while not every question asked will lead to a grand learning experience, knowing that you don’t have to have the answers is empowering both for you and for your children.
For more tips on how to answer when your child has a lot of questions, see here, here, or here.