December 29, 2011
"What you DON'T know will surprise you, if you let it"
By: Lorraine Esposito
Genuine curiosity occurs when
you allow what you don’t know to be more interesting than what you already know-or think you know. We all start out
naturally curious, but soon experience begins to teach us about the world-making genuine curiosity less
It’s another paradox you know, that the very thing that enables us to lead our children effectively and keep them
safe also hinders our ability to lead them effectively and keep them safe. Quickly judging situations is a very
good thing; in fact, it’s one big reason the human species has been able to evolve and survive. Our brains are
wired so that we can use what we know to help us quickly learn what we don’t know. This is our associative memory
in action, helping us to repeat behaviors that work and to stop doing things that don’t work. What makes genuine
curiosity tricky for parents is not just the unconscious nature of our associative memory; it’s really the
emotional charge we attach to the memories that makes it so tough. Another part of our unconscious mind attaches
the emotions sadness, aggression, joy and fear to our long-term memories. These emotions cause our automatic and
unconscious reaction to environmental triggers. In fact, the power of these emotions acts so quickly that they can
move our bodies into action before we are even consciously aware of the need to act. Think about swerving in your
car to avoid something; often we don’t know what we were avoiding until after we are free of the danger.
I think it safe to say that, even though being genuinely curious may sound simple, it isn’t really so easy a thing
to do. Becoming genuinely curious is a skill that requires practice. While it’s a very good thing to learn from
past experiences, it isn’t necessary all the time and shouldn’t be on auto pilot. We need to learn how to question
our reactions so that we can respond with conscious intent. Once we can master this skill we are able to learn
“I have learned the novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not
to be afraid of making mistakes, or of appearing naïve.” Abraham Maslow
Top 10 Benefits of Genuine Curiosity
Opens you to learning something new (creating new brain cells, changing
Relieves the burden and stress of needing to be right all the
Gives you a puzzle to work out―stimulating
Connects you to others because they might have answers you’ll
You feel smarter asking good questions vs. having a few canned answers to
Allows you to be more human as you allow others to be more human,
You look for reasons and results vs. motives and
Fosters better relationships because you’re less judgmental and
You have more options available to you in every
You realize just how little you know, yet you feel so
A Good Student
When you practice genuine curiosity with your child you show him how it looks to be confident and open. You show
him how to continue to learn throughout his life and to be a strong leader. The very best leaders know how to
listen and learn from others. We have the obligation to be strong leaders so that we can foster strong leadership
in our children. Learn how to listen and you’ll start learning all over again.
Are you asking me or telling me?
For you to get an honest answer from your child, you must first be sure you’ve asked an honest question. An honest
question is one that is genuinely curious. We all know what it’s like to be asked a “statement,” right? When
someone is trying to persuade you in one way or another you’ll often get a rhetorical question―for which no answer
is expected. The speaker is just telling you to agree with his or her view of something. As an adult I don’t like
this kind of sneaky persuasion, but I’m experienced enough to recognize it and I have the authority to override the
speaker’s intent, if I chose. A child may not have such experience and often has no authority to override the power
of the speaker-especially if you are the speaker.
Rhetorical questions from parents come in all shapes and sizes. You have your basic pointed question: “Why did you
hit your brother?” Depending on the tone and facial expression, you may have actually asked, “Why did you
deliberately act without sufficient provocation and with the intention of causing bodily harm to a person you are
supposed to love but must actually care nothing for?” (Inhale). The answer you get may be somewhat honest, but it’s
likely to be either defensive (which is only half of the whole truth) or passive (because he believes he could
never explain well enough to satisfy your anger). The basic pointed question leaves little room for saving pride
and feeling good about learning from a mistake. I call them pointed questions because they are pointing at
character flaws rather than a flaw in judgment or choice. These kinds of questions are harmful to confidence,
trust, self-respect and self-worth because they send a signal to your child that, in times of high emotion, your
true feelings about him are revealed: You don’t think much of him and perhaps don’t like him very much. He won’t
know that something in the situation may have triggered emotions in you that are completely unrelated to him. He
will just think it’s all about how rotten you think he is.
of rhetoric is the string of leading questions that begins with a set up:
"Do you know the rule about markers in the living
Of course she remembers . . . now. The set-up leads to the first demonstration of your effort and
"Do you remember the last time we talked about
Of course she remembers . . . now. This first example is good, but for many parents, it's still not enough,
"Do you remember you said you wouldn’t use
markers in the living room again?"
Maybe she remembers--maybe not. Chances are she tuned you out the
last time you scolded--especially if it was a set up like this time. She's going to take your word for
it now though because you've already got her nodding in agreement and she's scared. Once she nods, you
are ready to close:
"Then why are you coloring with
markers in the living room?"
And the crowd goes wild!! (insert applause) You've won! She was
outwitted by your cleverness.
Fault and Blame
This is your ego at work and it feels so condescending. What we’re
saying is this: “I’m doing everything right and you’re doing everything wrong.” We’re trying to impress ourselves
and our children by explaining in detail the great lengths we’ve gone to in order to be a good parent. We’ve done
all the right things by explaining the rules, reminding about past mistakes and reaffirming past agreements;
therefore, any fault in the results couldn’t possibly be ours. “It’s all your fault!” We box them into a corner of
shame and that wreaks havoc on a personality. Shame makes you hang your head and slink away. We use guilt and shame
as tools to manipulate and punish. And boy, it sure works, too―but not just in the moment we think it justifiable
(the short game); it continues to do its dirty work into the long game, as well. Sometimes people compensate for
shame by becoming intolerant, perfectionistic, shy or withdrawn. That’s not what we want, is it? We don’t want to
cause this kind of damage just because he was coloring on the couch, do we? (Yes, leading and pointed questions.
You caught me.)
I See Your Meaning
For children, it’s even more important to be genuinely curious when
asking questions. They are gifted with an ability to read your emotions very well. Their survival instinct is to be
acceptable to you-to please you-so that you’ll keep them close and protect them. They are acutely aware of all the
little things you say and do because they are watching for signs of acceptability. When verbal and nonverbal cues
are out of alignment, the words spoken convey only 7% meaning to the listener; the other 93% of your meaning is
gathered by your tone, facial expressions, gestures, and so on. There is no faking genuine curiosity.
So when you ask your children a question having already predetermined the answer you expect to hear, you
disconnect the truth of their feelings and thoughts from them―and from you as well. Their need for your acceptance
or attention prevents anyone from actually understanding anything real about the situation. Without freedom and
permission to be honest, no one will learn from the mistake.
Related Tip of the
Week: Expectation Guilt