Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Magic of "I Don't Know"

Using "I DON'T KNOW" As A Parenting Tool

Recently I read and responded to one of Teacher Tom's thoughtful blog posts on his Facebook page. It was entitled, I Don't Know.  Tom personally answered, and we ended up having a good exchange. A week later, Teacher Tom's blog post "More About I Don't Know"  kindly mentioned me and our discussion.

Shhhh... and don't forget them

Let's look at some reasons why 'I don't know' is so effective

  • Honesty - When a parent says to their child that they don't know the answer to something, it lets the child understand that it is okay to admit a lack of knowledge. Leadership's first step is not making up a lie, but seeking the truth. 

  • Teamwork - Soon the best follow-up to I don't know is, "... but why don't we find out..." Doing a little research with your children is collaborative fun!
  • Opening up conversation - By admitting that you are human and are willing to admit when you don't know something, the child feels more comfortable in expressing themself. Knowing that the adult will not judge them, children feel more at ease asking questions or giving their opinions.  This opens up lively exchanges and perhaps even a flurry of happy jibber-jabber!

  • Not being a know-it-all -  Adults who act like know-it-alls end up getting into the habit of speaking untruthfully. Many parents take a tyranical attitude for short-sighted and faulty reasons. When an adult shows that they are human and are willing to admit mistakes or a lack of knowledge, it can take away a child's tentativeness.
  • Eliminating fear of 'looking stupid' - Many children grow into the habit of being afraid to give their opinion. This often comes from adults who have laughed at the child's answers, making them feel dumb, causing a decrease in self-confidence.  It is usually seen in the classroom where the child is afraid to raise their hand to give an answer for fear of being wrong and, therefore, made to look stupid. It's a shame, but it is quite common.

  • Respect as an equal - I've always been a huge fan of giving every child full respect. It's the only way to parent correctly, in my view. And I don't think I might be wrong with this. By admitting you don't know, and by encouraging children to also admit when they don't have an answer, builds trust. Another way of stating the all important aspect of respecting your children is to treat them as equals with yourself. Clearly, the adult will be making decisions and leading the way in daily life, but when the child is included in those decisions and feels like their input matters,  your child becomes a lifetime confidante in the best possible sense. 
  • Modeling Listening - A great part of having an honest, animated exchange of ideas is to be a good listener. Many adults fall into the habit of not really asking their children their opinion on a subject or a family decision. By asking a child how they feel and then being silent and listening to their response, self-expression is instilled into the young ones. This also applies when a child comes to you with something to say. It takes a wise listening ear to allow the child ample time to express themselves, often without giving a concrete answer but just giving them the floor to voice their thoughts. 

  • Building Curiosity - When young children are encouraged to speak their mind without fear of recourse, a confident curiosity can be built. One can not use their imagination with effectiveness if there is any fear of negative judgement. A healthy environment of positiveness is fertle ground for young minds to become scientists and explorers of every kind with no limits. This enrichment of the human psyche is what we sometimes call 'mindfulness.'

  •  Asking "What do you think?"- In addition to "Let's find out,"  another logical step to the exchange of, "I don't know" is "What do you think?" This question is a very positive and empowering method of combining all of what has been discussed here above. 



Using 'I don't know' with young children opens up the honesty channel for greater communication. When children know they can trust you they are able to become themselves and blossom without self-doubt. 'I don't know' is very powerful in all relationships. 

Papa Green Bean

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