Scientific discoveries, inventions, learning to walk and talk, gaining self awareness, taking up a new hobby, deepening a relationship, making a new friend - all have seeds in curiosity. Being curious is fundamental to being human and yet, as we age, I feel that we learn (in one way or another) how to ignore our curious nature and we begin accepting the status quo. How would your life change if you approached your parenting or your marriage or your friendships or your occupation with more curiosity?
As adults, when we interact with a child or adolescent, we often feel that we need to impart wisdom, give good advice, have all the answers, and set this young person in the ‘right’ direction. I wonder what it would be like to simply get curious and let go of some of that responsibility. I like to think of asking questions like opening doors, whereas giving advice or making statements is like closing doors. Open doors allow us to learn that different people have different perspectives. Open doors provide opportunities to find out more information. Open doors allow us to see that a problem might have more than one solution. Open doors allow us to see that something that feels overwhelming may just be a sequence of smaller situations that have become one in our mind. A closed door on the other hand, is quite honestly, encouragement and support (intentional or not) to shut down and stay stuck.
Imagine a child who is resisting bedtime. I think it’s safe to say we can all imagine the conflict and frustration that might ensue. I wonder what would happen if the child heard something like this…
I’m guessing you really don’t want to go to bed right now. What would you rather be doing?
I wonder what happens to someone if they never sleep. How do you think you might feel you never slept at all?
I think sleeping lets us dream about things that don’t need to be real. What kinds of things do you like to dream about?
The question itself is not what is important. The curiosity is what is important and what opens doors that lead to conversation and understanding (and dissolves conflict). Also, any time you can engage a child’s imagination, the better! Through imagination and play is how children learn and make sense of their environment. Being imaginative, intentionally and often, gives children the opportunity to develop the skills they need to be confident and curious thinkers.
ACCEPT THE ANSWERS
It’s important to accept whatever answers you may hear. If you ask a question and open a door, but then dispute the answer or express why you think it’s untrue, you just closed the door again. You may not agree with the answer. It may not be the same answer you would give. That’s okay. And if the answer should happen to be another question, well then, a door was just opened for you.
This is the step that requires the most energy and skill from us (especially as parents). This is the step where you need to be truly present with the other person. This is the step that requires some self awareness so that we may recognize our own fears and biases arising and remain open minded and…curious!
Let’s revisit the above situation with the child who does not want to go to bed. Once you’ve asked a question, you need to remain present and open minded about the answer.
Question: “What would you rather be doing?”
Answer: “Playing with my toys and eating candy!”
Keep being curious! If the response to this playful answer is “Wouldn’t we all, now off to bed”, you just closed the door. I wonder what would happen if you said “Let’s keep talking about all our favourite candy while you pick out some pajamas.” Or “Do you think your toys would get all sticky if you were eating candy and playing at the same time?”
It seems to me that accepting the answers is particularly important when dealing with adolescence. You don’t have to agree with their answers. People don’t always agree. Keep being curious! Keep asking questions!
In fact, being curious is a skill like any other. We need to practice being curious in order to develop our critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills.
A simple game to play to help children develop their ability to be curious is “I wonder….”
I wonder where the car ahead of us is going…
I wonder what it was like to write Harry Potter…
I wonder if that tree feels lonely in the field all by itself…
I wonder if steam will come out of my ears when I feel angry, like on the cartoons…
Let the game get crazy and silly. I’m curious how often you will be able to get curious.