In one of F. Scott Fitzerald’s funniest short stories, “Head and Shoulders,” a certifiable genius falls in love with a showgirl. The plot and moral of the story aren’t relevant for today’s email—though the story is highly recommended—instead there is a little passage in it that introduces a concept that is worth thinking about:
“I was a ‘why child. I wanted to see the wheels go around. My father was a young economics professor at Princeton. He brought me up on the system of answering every question I asked him to the best of his ability.”
A “why child”—what a delightful phrase! Isn’t that what we’re trying to raise? We’ve talked about raising a child who knows how to “figure things out” but this is part and parcel of that. A why child isn’t content to take things at face value, or simple explanations. They not only want to see the wheels go round, they want to know why, they want to know how, they want to know where they came from in the first place.
Can this be annoying? Absolutely. It can even get them in trouble (isn’t that the whole message of the Curious George series?). But curious is better than complacent, annoying is better than ignorant.
You must seed this habit. You must make sure you water it too—and do your best never to stamp it out, just because you’re tired, or just because the question is inappropriate. The more questions they ask the better. Not just to their parents, but for their whole life.