Sujatha learns that how she answers four-year-old Ajay’s “why” questions could be more important than providing the answers themselves.
Don’t say “I don’t know”.
Say “Let’s find out”.
The moment you have a child, you have been forewarned. The day will come in the not too distant future when you’re going to get asked a lot of questions. Most of them will begin with the word “why”.
You probably also know why you’ll be asked why (if you don’t, see previous Mum On A Roll article The “why” word and why it’s important).
So what if you really don’t know why. What do you do? Or what if you knew why but couldn’t explain it in kid-speak?
Do you say “I don’t know”?
Not a good idea.
Why? Here are two key reasons:
- It sends your kids the signal that it’s okay not to know something, which actually really is okay if they are overworked, disgruntled adults. But saying don’t know to blossoming minds stifles curiosity and hinders them from learning as much as they can.
- The more your child hears “I don’t know” from you, the more he’s going to realise it’s okay to use it for purposes you’re not going to like:
“Why is your homework missing?” “Uh, I don’t know!”
When you really don’t know
I’m constantly in a quandary as to how to answer Ajay’s numerous questions. They can range from the simply curious like “What is a velociraptor?” to the downright scientific “Why do I sweat?”.
One time he asked me if people really shake cows to get milkshake. It started from a Carl’s Jr commercial where a poor Friesian gets her belly wobbled by an actor who really looks like he lives on the stuff. While the ex-copywriter in me was tickled by the clever concept and casting, my mum side was piqued about how I was going to explain it to my son.
I really am no expert on the way the world works. Neither have I the patience of a saint. But I do know a good reference book or website when I see one. And I have learned how wonderful demonstrations and experiments are when it comes to helping kids learn. After getting asked the milkshake question for about the hundredth time (Carl’s Jr spends a lot on media placement!) I decided there was only one way to answer him: I whipped out a blender and the appropriate ingredients. And Ajay discovered how good home-made milkshake can taste on a blistering hot day (see our recipe below!). Sans cow, of course.
So what can you say when a child asks a difficult “why” question?
Don’t say “I don’t know”.
Say “Let’s find out”.
Even better, say “Let’s find out together.”
In our home, “If ye don’t know, seek together,” has become somewhat of a family motto.
It can be tough to say “Let’s find out” on a busy deadline day or when guests are expected and the rice cooker makes slush instead of rice and you are worried you won’t have time to give the bathroom an extra mopping before they arrive. But as long as he knows he’s going to get an answer, Ajay is quite willing to wait. Telling him that we’re going to find out together soon is also a great way to show him:
- It’s good to ask questions.
- It’s true, adults really don’t know everything.
- You can always learn something new no matter how old you are.
- The answers are all there. You just have to know where and how to look.
- How to use a search engine (keep parental controls on!).
- How to use books–a dictionary, encyclopaedia, a reference book– in a world where kids would rather play computer games than read.
I’ve decided to write some of his questions down with simplified, (and hopefully) accurate answers. So that just in case my amnesia (and patience) worsens, I won’t have to spend every waking moment “seeking together”.
Kid-friendly answers to some of Ajay’s most-asked questions
“Why can’t I watch TV all the time?”
Not all programmes are good for you. If you watch things like people stealing or hurting each other every day, it teaches you to be bad too. Too much TV also stops you from doing healthy stuff like getting exercise, learning your sums and reading storybooks.
“Why must I sleep?”
Sleep helps your brain and your body to rest. When you keep awake for a long time, your brain and body will become too tired and you won’t be able to do the things you like to do.
“Why must I say Excuse Me when I burp?”
You burp when there is too much air in your stomach. It’s not a sound you make on purpose. But a burp is a very loud sound and it can disturb the people around you. Saying Excuse Me when you burp is a good way to tell them you didn’t mean to be rude.
“Why do I need to drink so much water?”
Your body needs enough water to keep it healthy. Every day, you use the bathroom and you sweat. When you do these things, you are using up the water in your body. Water also helps you to stay cool. If you use up a lot of water but don’t give your body some back in return, you can become very sick.
It’s a small step, but doing things this way is helping my son to not only learn why things are the way they are but also all the little life lessons on becoming a polite, healthy and happy four-year-old.
Our Milkshake Recipe (serves 1)
Combine in an ice-crushable blender:
1 scoop ice cream of your choice
½ cup cold milk
3 – 4 ice cubes
½ tsp vanilla extract (optional for vanilla milk shake)
2 tsp Milo powder (for an extra-yummy chocolate milk shake)
Cow mug (optional)