By Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW
You might think I’m going to spend this post talking about how we need to foster curiosity in our children. How important it is for growing people to be asked questions; not just told facts and answers (or what to do). Or how the power of inquiry can help build critical and flexible minds. furious to curious
I could spend several paragraphs honing my argument in favor of tinkering over timed math stations, or creative writing and performance art over book reports. Though I am a former educator in support of more developmentally appropriate and emotionally intelligent learning, my focus here is on parenting.
Why should parents be curious?
So many reasons! With regard to the above mini-rant about curiosity in children (and really EVERYTHING we ever want to teach)—it’s something we have to model. As much as we’d love the opposite to be true, children will always do what we do over what we say. We must embody and enact the qualities and habits we want them to attain. It doesn’t work to ask them to be understanding, compassionate, curious, hard-working, and kind, if we are not. So there’s that.
Another reason? It stops, or at least slows, the quick-fire judgments, decisions, and emotions we slip into every day. Let me unpack these three landmines I frequently step on, and show you how curiosity can reroute your attention to a more constructive avenue.
- Quick-fire judgments: I call upstairs for my son. He doesn’t respond. My assumption is that he is ignoring me. Intentionally. Along with my potentially incorrect assumption, there will be judgments; about his character, his future behavior, the very fiber of his being! (Turns out he had headphones on and could not hear me.)
- Irrational decisions: I holler that there will be no screen time for a week, or sweets ever again, or I announce, “You’re grounded until you’re 30,” (maybe that will come later, but you get the picture). I’m speaking and laying down the law WAY before I think. (My emotional explosions always model a lack of self-control, no matter how justified I feel in having them.)
- Emotional slides: Though both descriptions above might sound like an emotional slides, I think of these particular pitfalls a bit differently. In terms of heat, or emotional “charge,” some reactions are just electric. We all have our hot buttons. I had one this week that involved some hangry back-talk that was difficult impossible for me to stay calm about. (I am practicing the pause—I can sometimes catch myself—and the apology for when I can’t.)
These are the very situations where we can find our “learning edges.”
In each of these areas, it is UBER HELPFUL to be curious. When a parent is curious about themselves AND their children, a space opens up. A place for mindfulness and inquiry—the asking of questions; “Where am I at?” “How am I feeling?” and, “Which story is true?”
Curiosity allows us to assess our decisions more carefully and to slow things down. It means we have to be willing to not be “right”—something many of us avoid. But when we admit fault, or wrongdoing, or hair-trigger reactions; and then make amends, it is the best kind of modeling we can possibly do.
When we think about our role as parents, and our relationships with our children as two separate things, we can be more intentional about our path. Set some intentions. Notice when your temper flares. Take more deep breaths—this forces you to pause and your brain to settle. Try curiosity on for size, and let me know how it goes.
The Art of Tinkering, by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink’s TED Talk: The Puzzle of Motivation
Originally published in the Parenting Toolbox column of Parent & Family.