Too often, as parents, we focus on the results. We care about their grades. We care about whether they’re turning in their homework. We care whether they know their times tables or whether they’re making it to work on time for their summer jobs.
Obviously these things are important, but by doing this we can end up skipping over some of the more important parts of the process—and end up missing opportunities to inculcate lifelong habits that are far more valuable than any grade. The scientist Arthur Sackler talked about how, growing up in Brooklyn, every other Jewish mother would ask their kids “Did you learn anything at school today?” or “How did you do on your test?” But Sackler’s mother never did. Instead, when he got home, she would say, “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?” That difference, he said, the emphasis on asking good questions and being curious, was what made him a scientist.
We’ve talked before about raising a “why child” and teaching them that “everything is figureoutable.” You do that by encouraging them to ask questions, by showing them that not only is there no such thing as a stupid question, but that one becomes smart only by asking questions. You have to make sure that you don’t discourage their curiosity by shutting them down or being short with them. You have to show them that you yourself ask questions and raise your hand when you don’t know.
Show them that asking leads to answers and that all learning—and all science—begins with an admission of ignorance. You can’t learn if you think you already know, Epictetus used to say, and conversely, we learn by focusing on what we don’t know. We get better by asking, and curiosity doesn’t kill us—it strengthens us.