I attended a career meeting at my daughter’s senior school, which was organised so they could explain her options when it comes to choosing courses and sitting exams and how the school would work together with her.
There must have been over 400 parents attending, and I was sat right at the front. Because of my wheelchair I am nearly always placed somewhere prominent, like on the end of an aisle, near the door, or right in the middle. It means I often get the best view, but I stick out. It’s great if you have loads of confidence, otherwise it is a complete nightmare.
After an hour or so we were invited to ask questions, and the staff answered a few questions from other parents, but I wasn’t paying much attention. You see, I was concentrating on my own question; I went over it in my head probably 20 times, I thought about it and improved it until I decided it was the perfect question… and then I sat there in complete silence.
Why did I do that? Well, let’s back up a bit and think about how children ask questions. I know how I dealt with my child’s questions, how my own questions were answered, and how many children are dealt with similarly today.
It goes something like this:
“Why are you washing your hands?” Because they are dirty.
“Why are they dirty?” Because I have been gardening.
“Why were you gardening?” Because I wanted to.
“Why did you want to?” I just did.
“But why?” Oh for crying out loud, stop asking stupid questions, why why why is all you say!
We all know how annoying it is when a child goes through this phase of asking “Why” to everything, but we don’t realise the damage we are doing when we abruptly call a halt to the questions! Very often we will call a question stupid or ridiculous – but unfortunately even if the question is stupid, the child doesn’t understand the difference between their question and themselves as a person, they have no concept that they are two different things. So when you call a child’s action or question stupid they take it to heart and understand it to mean that you think they are stupid. That plants a seed that will grow, until one day that child finds himself sat in a career meeting about his child’s education and realises he is too frightened to ask any questions!
So much damage can be done to a person’s confidence in what might seem an insignificant moment. It is in the nature of children to ask why things are the way they are. A child will continue to ask why because either you have not satisfied their curiosity or they do not understand fully – either way, a decent and thoughtful reply will do the trick. Shutting down the discussion is counterproductive.
When a child asks us a question we should remember that as they respect us enough to ask, we should respect them enough to give them a decent answer. Of course you cannot answer the “But why?” question all night long, but you can give a longer or more in-depth answer to the first question that my indeed satisfy their curiosity. You could also end your answer with a question of your own, and give them a little confidence boost by asking them something you know they can answer.
So how about the next time a child asks you a question, start your reply with ‘good question…’ and end it with ‘I’m glad you asked. Now I would like to know…’
Updated for 2023