Parenting tips: How to embrace the power of 'I don't know'

More often than not, parents squirm when their queries get tricky and we don’t have a definite answer to give. We feel inadequate, challenged, and sometimes even belittled

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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Published: Thu 28 Dec 2023, 9:12 PM

Last updated: Sat 30 Dec 2023, 11:05 AM

Dear Parents,

I have a confession to make — of the many things that cause me jitters as an adult is ‘not knowing things’. Work doesn’t fluster me, what gives me the heebie-jeebies is the knowledge of not knowing how to do it. It was a realisation that first struck me when I suddenly lost my father, and I had a host of things to contend in the aftermath. They may have been the smallest tasks or a string of formalities linked to banks and such, but the fear of ‘not knowing’ became an encumbrance. There was only one way to get around it — to confess I didn’t know how things worked; to ask umpteen times and be kind to myself for the ignorance. Eventually I got over the fear to say, “I don’t know” and gained the courage to ask ‘will you teach me, please?”

Why is this personal anecdote relevant here on GB? Because as parents, teachers and guardians, we are often confronted with questions and quandaries by children, because in their view, especially when they are little, we are their encyclopaedia. They believe we have the answers to all their queries. That we are omniscient. More often than not, we squirm when their queries get tricky and we don’t have a definite answer to give. We feel inadequate, challenged, and sometimes even belittled. And we parry the questions with a quick dismissal or a vague mumble.

The truth is we need not be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Why don’t we find out together?” I have by now happily acknowledged the fact that our children (of all ages) are a lot more informed than us, they are more in tune with modern trends, and they have a hands-on approach to whatever they learn. It doesn’t serve any purpose to pretend that just because we may have celebrated many more New Years than they have, we have an absolute knowledge of everything under the sun.

When we concede to them that we don’t know and ask our children to enlighten us, we are not capitulating to them, instead, we are empowering them and giving them a sense of their capabilities. Alongside, we are also hinting that not everyone needs to know everything. We all learn from each other and grow together as individuals. We complete the jigsaw puzzle together putting our pieces together.

There is no denying the fact that pride plays a major role in our incapacity to confess ignorance, especially in front of those younger to us, be it our own children or younger colleagues at work. The way I look at it is: we are all endowed with skills of different kinds and the globe needs it all to spin in one direction. We are all cogs in the wheel, they need to work in tandem. So what should stop us from acknowledging to our children when we are stumped that ‘we don’t know’ and we are keen to know it too?

The most apparent instances that I face are with regard to technology, gaming or science and I have no qualms labelling myself a dodo in these, both at work and at home. And the children (young and old) in my lives have always been willing to walk me through the warrens and help me fix my quandary.

Children love it when we say we don’t know. It not only gives them a sense of importance, but it also teaches them that it’s okay to not know. What we know is miniscule compared to what we don’t. And there are many ways to fill our deficit, and one of them is through our children. Until next, happy parenting.

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