Admitting Ignorance To Kids is A Good Thing

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As caregivers of small children many of us come to revel in the feeling of godlike omnipotence around them. We might not get the respect we think we deserve at work or in other spheres of life but in their eyes we know everything, can do everything, are all knowing and all powerful.

And so a funny thing happens along the way, which is that when their constant curiosity about life causes them to ask questions we don’t know the answers to, we don’t want to admit to ourselves or to them. We don’t want to shatter those warm feelings of being almost godlike in our knowledge. Without even being really consciously aware of what we’re doing, we might shut that question down under this or that pretense in order to try to protect the fictional setup where we know everything.

And that’s a real shame because if we instead simply admit our ignorance and then set out to learn the answer to the question together with the young child what we’re modeling is an attitude towards life that all people who achieve mastery in any subject have. This is the learning attitude, the attitude of caring more about getting better than appearing to be good. The attitude of fearlessly moving into areas of uncertainty. What we’re modeling is personal efficacy rather than having to rely on someone bigger, stronger, and smarter to get needs met.

Admitting ignorance to kids might seem painful at first because it threatens to shatter those warm feelings of omnipotence that we may have been cultivating but it’s a very good thing for their growth and development, and when their pride of accomplishment at setting out to learn something new and playing a part in learning the answer we get warm feelings much more powerful than those of temporarily feeling godlike.

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