Like most kids, my daughter Carlota is intently curious. She never stops asking questions. And like most parents, there are times I wish she'd stop. But then I have to remember that when I was a child, I had many questions about the world. Sadly, my parents were not always able to answer my constant questions. They didn’t have the time or energy, so I gradually stopped asking.
When I started school, I never felt quite confident enough to ask questions. Fortunately, I had one kind teacher who recognized that I wasn't a terrible student; I was just fearful. She began spending extra time with me, helping to draw me out. She listened to me and let me stumble over letters or words and, slowly, I began to ask questions.
Is it any surprise that I became a journalist? I now ask questions for a living, learning as I go. Some years ago, I started writing a list of questions: "Why are we born? What is our purpose? Why do we lose the people we love?" Before long, those questions became the foundation for my book, A Book of Questions: A Playful Journal to Keep Thoughts and Feelings. I dedicated my book to Carlota, the child I hope will never stop asking questions and never take no for an answer.
Please Ask Me Why
In theory, all parents want to encourage their children’s curiosity, and that means answering lots of questions. But in practice, the endless "Why?" questions can get tedious and frustrating. It's helpful to try to see the world through your child's eyes. Everything is interesting, everything is baffling. Try to remember how puzzled you once were by the things you saw and experienced, and how you needed someone to explain what was going on. By answering questions, you're showing your child respect. By keeping the dialogue open, you're telling your kids that you value their ideas and thoughts. So encourage your child to ask questions. It will help him:
- Gain control over his world. You’re establishing a pattern of questioning that hopefully will stay with your child throughout his life. Convey to your child that the question is sometimes more important than the answer. Answers don’t always come easily, but when you ask the right questions you're on the way to finding out the truth.
- Learn to think critically. It’s important to not simply accept things as they are given. We want our children to see that we have a right to dig and find the satisfactory answer. Questioning helps your child mull over what she sees on TV. It helps her to distinguish between fact and fiction, between entertainment and advertising messages.
- Consider the complexities of life. While it seems that you have to offer an answer to every question—especially with very young children—sometimes there are no answers, or at least no simple ones. That’s an important lesson for kids, too. There are lots of ways to work questioning into your child’s day. The first step is to make it a daily activity, perhaps at the start of your evening meals or as part of bedtime. Jot a question on a piece of paper, along with a love note, to tuck into his lunchbox. That way, the question game becomes a nice way of staying connected during the day. The object is to try to get a handle on how your child views his world, and help clear up confusion he may have on difficult or painful issues.