Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat!

[Image - Alicja Colon]
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Questions from your kids can be so easy to brush off, but should you really be ignoring them?

It’s Friday evening and you’ve finally got the chance to sit down, put your feet up and catch the latest episode of Top Gear. Completely oblivious to this plan, your child chooses this very moment to ask you the meaning of life. It’s understandable that you want to say not right now, wave them away or even direct them to your partner. It may be easy to tell children to stop asking questions, but does that make it right?


We all know the whining tone a child can use when they ask the question ‘Why?’, but there is a huge difference between the ‘I-don’t-want-to-do-something’ wail and a genuine question. Unfortunately, we only tend to hear the wail whenever a question is being asked and respond instantly with ‘Because I said so’.

It’s important for parents to distinguish between wanting an explanation and the tired whine. If you can boycott the ‘Because I said so’ phrase and simply deflect the question back to them by asking why they think, it can really help your youngster learn.

Asking what they think distracts them from the moaning and refocuses them on the task at hand. If they are genuinely asking why something is necessary, then their reply will tell you this and give you a chance to properly engage.

Watch your own tone of voice, ask them gently rather than snapping and you’ll defuse potential situations much faster. (Note: If your child is already lying prostate on the floor screaming, then this method won’t work!)

Don’t Belittle Them

Questions are an important part of learning and showing curiosity in the world around them. Sometimes as adults, we can’t recall a time when we didn’t know everything we now do, and it can be easy to act as though a question is silly.

“Asking lots of questions is often a sign of being very bright and demonstrates your little one has an engaging mind – so be proud, not embarrassed or annoyed.” 

Toddler or teenager, you may be surprised at the things your children don’t know yet and this is normal. However, take them seriously, don’t laugh at them, be impatient or snap. You can have a little chuckle to yourself about their answers, particularly those of a toddler, but don’t make them feel silly – they are making entirely new connections between information all the time!

The Wrong Time

Often parents will say that the main reason they rebuff their children’s questions is because they always ask at awkward times, but the reality is there isn’t an easy time. The quiet that comes with bedtime, or time alone, can prove contemplative for children and so you might find that there are lots of questions as you tuck them in.

It’s vital to try and answer these questions as they arrive, otherwise you might end up brushing them off forever. If it’s really late, or your child has multiple questions, write them down and stick them on the fridge to answer in the morning or at tea time the next day.

Children may also ask you a difficult question at ‘the wrong time’ because they are nervous about the answer, but make sure your priorities are right. Even if the baby is crying and you’re up to your elbows in washing up, if your 4 year old asks whether Grandma is coming back, you need to prioritise it. Take the time to explain things clearly to them. If needs be, let them know you have to deal with one thing first – such as comforting the baby – then come back to answer the question.

Don’t Forget Communication

Questions are a huge part of communicating between people, even in adult life. We use them to learn, double check information and access parts of our memory. They also show we are interested in something or someone, if you think about social situations, you – as an adult – use them to start conversations and get to know someone. Your child is doing the same with you, attempting to start a conversation and engage you. Engage them back and let questions lead to full conversations, use them as a fun opportunity to get to know them better.

Encourage Learning

Whether your child is two or twelve, it’s worth creating a stimulating environment that encourages questions. If you go on a nature walk and they ask you about a flower, look it up when you get home. Bring home a new type of fruit to try and encourage your kids to question the colour, texture and where it comes from. Point things out to them while you travel and listen to their questions flood in.

“The constant questioning of the toddler phase can be quite frustrating, but once you reach the unbreakable silence of the teenage years, you might find yourself longing for those questions again!” 

If you don’t know an answer then tell them, don’t make up something incorrect. Use it as an opportunity to look it up and learn something new yourself. If they’re older, get them to research it and come back to you with an answer. Questions are an important part of being a child and – although do lessen as you grow – continue to be crucial throughout adulthood.

At least when your children ask you, you know the information they are being given and can help them think through issues logically – be it why water is wet or the right time to lose your virginity – as well as pointing out new avenues of information to help them form opinions or learn facts.                          

Remember, if your kids come to you to ask questions, they are showing complete trust and want you – not anybody else – to teach them the answers.