While working on my book on curiosity, I came to see that, as a father, I had made several fundamental mistakes.
In this article, I share some of them, so that other fathers (and mothers) can do better.
A child is limitlessly curious. It explores the world in its play, asks thousands of ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’ questions with all senses, listens to answers, and thus grows at a phenomenal speed.
Curiosity is mental hunger. A child’s play/exploration is but ravenous mental feeding.
The questions a child asks aloud are only the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Most questions of a child are mute. For example, by playing with an object such as pushing or pulling at or deconstructing it, the child asks the object ‘why’ it is the way it is.
How did I deal with the questions that my son asked aloud?
Even if, compared to his mute questions, he only occasionally asked questions aloud, to me it seemed as if he asked questions aloud all the time.
When I did not know an answer or when I was tired, I sometimes gave useless answers such as “because it is the way it is.”
Today I know: Such answers put a damper on the curiosity of a child. It’s like denying a snack when it asks for food.
When, after a long and strenuous work day, I just wanted some time for myself, I occasionally even gave answers such as “stop asking so much.”
Today I know: Such answers are a dagger into a child’s curiosity! If a child hears such answers repeatedly, it finally will stop asking.
One day my son and I sat on the couch and watched TV. We saw a children’s program that was approved for his age. But he permanently asked questions related to what he saw on the screen. While I answered, I missed some of the story. Hence, after a few minutes, I asked him to not ask any more questions but just to watch the show. That’s what he did from then on.
Today I know: My son was ravenously curious. What he saw triggered his curiosity and asking aloud was the only option he had in order to obtain answers, for he could not touch or otherwise interact with what he perceived. A child can ask mute questions with its hands, its mouth, and its nose. But when it just sees or hears something, such as on TV, it only can ask aloud. By asking my son to just watch and not ask any further questions, I had put yet another damper on his natural curiosity.
A child that watches TV or sees something on the internet without a person that could answer questions learns to absorb information unreflected – instead of interacting with the world, asking questions, and finding answers for itself. The child transforms from a curious explorer into an uncritical consumer.
This begins during childhood and continues throughout life: The more we consume TV and internet, the more we turn into consumers, and the easier we get programmed.
I know, it’s convenient for a parent to use a TV or the internet to occupy a child. But it really hurts the child’s curiosity.
The essence of my findings is that a child’s curiosity starts as a powerful river. What remains at the end of puberty is a measly trickle.
We stop our children from asking questions because our parents stopped us from asking questions. Our parents stopped us from asking questions because that’s what their parents did to them. The stalling of true curiosity is a pattern that developed over thousands upon thousands of years. People pass it on, unaware, from generation to generation as a quite unfortunate “mental heritage.”
However, the energy behind true curiosity is still there. Parents just unknowingly redirect the energy into alternative channels such as food. Once a child has learned to use physical food as an alternative channel for its mental hunger, it will substitute curious explorations of the fridge for truly curious explorations of the world.
(I describe all alternative channels in my book “Curiosity: The Mental Hunger of Humans.”)
Life is lived forward and understood backward.
I am unlikely to apply my findings, for I don’t plan to bring up yet another child. But it happened that I just finished my book on curiosity when my son became a father. I shared my findings with him and gave him a copy of the book so that he can stop passing on this heritage.
My son does better – for the benefit of my lovely grand daughter.
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Never lose a holy curiosity.