With the fast pace of modern life, it’s often hard for busy parents to stop for a while and listen to their children. Rushing from home to school, then to work – before it’s time for the school run again – it’s easy to forget in all this there’s a little voice consistently asking you questions and really wanting to be heard.
Some enquiries we brush off, some we give half considered answers to – and a minority are afforded what could be called a ‘satisfactory’ response. But should we as parents, carers and teachers all be working harder to answer our children’s questions? Could it be damaging to brush them aside? The evidence says yes on both counts.
I recently interviewed a fascinating child psychologist on the subject of ‘Why Children Ask Why?’ – and the answers I got made me re-evaluate the way I listen to my children and try to answer their questions.
Within that context, here are the top ten reasons why listening to children’s questions and giving a full answer is always a good idea:
- When children are learning to talk, their questions help them foster a sense of self – breaking the symbiotic relationship they have previously had with their mother and helping them to figure out their place in the world.
- Kids who have their enquiring minds most satisfied by comprehensive answers from their parents – go on to become more positive and confident adults.
- Children who have their questions dismissed by adults – whether parents, carers or teachers – could be unhappy and trying to allay their fears through the process of asking questions. If we don’t address them we’ll never know the root cause of any potential unhappiness.
- The bond between a parent and a child is based upon mutual trust. If we constantly brush over or ignore our children’s questions, we can break this cycle of trust – which leads to the child resenting the adult. You often hear adults saying things like ‘my dad never had any time for me’ – so this resentment is carried on throughout the child’s entire life.
- Children can often read between the lines and pick up hesitation or reticence in the answers of their parents. This means if you’re worried about a certain subject and have a problem with it yourself – such as money or bereavement – your fragmented and dismissive answers to questions on the subject could transfer your insecurities onto your children.
- Obvious but true, answering your kids’ questions will help them learn more effectively – not only about the subjects you are discussing – but also about the art of communication itself.
- Answering your children’s questions on all the subjects under the sun, including the arts, literature, science, culture and music – will also help you as an adult to keep learning things. (It will also make you better at Trivial Pursuit).
- Teachers know that using questions as a form of educating youngsters can yield far better results that simply teaching by rote. ‘Now children, repeat after me…A is for apple’.
- Finding time to answer your children’s questions can be good for the whole family, and you can set aside special times like meals – when everyone can sit down together and actually talk to each other.
- Finally, satisfying your child’s enquiring mind is fun, and it makes you feel good and them feel great. You both learn something new and often end up in fits of giggles when the questions and answers get more and more silly, (I know mine do with my four year old!).
So there we have it, the many reasons why passing our children like ships in the night is a bad idea, and listening to them, engaging them in positive conversation and answering their questions is good for them in so many ways.
For more information on answering children’s questions, and to watch my interview with a professional child psychologist, please visit my new blog (launching in October): Things My Kids Ask Me