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The phrase, “curiosity killed the cat,” is generally meant to discourage exploration and asking questions. The discouragement is probably meant for those about to wander off into forbidden territory because, otherwise, the statement is quite ridiculous. We want our children to be curious because it allows them to learn and grow.

Yet, when it comes to parenting, the phrase appears to be in full force. How many of us have had conversations with fellow parents about the things about our children’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that we just don’t want to know about? Our sense is that if we open up the door to that curiosity, we won’t like what we learn.

Disengaging our curiosity runs counter to most problem-solving techniques. In our professional lives, we ask questions all the time and rarely do we make a decision without data. Yet, with our children, we often want to operate like the classic image of the ostrich with its head in the sand.

This outlook puts us at a disadvantage. Without engaging in our natural curiosity about our children, we end up creating solutions to their problems that do not bring into account their concerns, perspective, or point of view. In fact, it may even appear like we are disenfranchising them from being active partners in their lives.

Observation in Innovation Isn’t Passive

Problem-solving as an innovative parent means engaging in observation. Typically, we think of observation as a passive act. When we ask questions during observation, it’s more of a reflective exercise, designed to guide our eyes and minds towards particular aspects of the problem. We ask questions like, “what’s happening and why?”

But, what if our observations were active, too?

When we engage our natural curiosity as parents, we can learn even more about what’s going on with our child and bring them into the problem-solving process. In his Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model, Dr. Ross Greene refers to this as the empathy step and it aligns well with the observation step of innovative parenting.

Dr. Greene proposes using a combination of reflective listening and clarifying questions to help figure out the who, what, where, and when of the problem. It can begin with a simple question, “I’ve noticed that (insert problem)…what’s up?” Not only do you learn more, but you send a message to your child that you are here to help and his concerns are valid.

Your curiosity centers around the overall question of what don’t you understand about your child’s problem? What do I need to ask about to better understand it? You can explore this further by asking:

  • How so?
  • I don’t quite understand.
  • I’m confused.
  • Can you say more about that?
  • What do you mean?

Making Your Curiosity More Empathetic

Curiosity can be a great tool to help you learn more about what’s going on with your child and her problem, but by itself, it isn’t always enough. Remember that obnoxious curious kid that always asked questions? Don’t be that kid. We can make your curiosity more effective by making sure to focus on empathy.

As an empathetic listener, you will learn more and make your child more comfortable. Here are a few strategies to use:

Nonverbal Involvement

Just Listen
Don’t think about what you are going to say next. Quiet your mind (breathe mindfully if it helps) and don’t worry if there is silence.

Be Non-Judgemental
No, really – keep your opinions to yourself. You don’t need to agree or disagree with what he says. Just be present and offer your presence.

Paraphrase
Sometimes repeating back what you heard in a question format can help your child know that you are listening and not just staring off into space. It helps build trust and intimacy. Ask questions like, “So what happened after you…” or “Are you saying that this was frustrating?”

Another strategy to improve your listening comes Julian Treasure. He uses an acronym – RASA – which stands for:

Receive
Appreciate
Summarize
Ask

You can learn more about his strategy here or watch his TED Talk which offers more tips for improving listening.

Engaging in your curiosity can be daunting at first, particularly if you are greeted by silence from your child. If we don’t start asking questions, though, we risk flying in the dark and creating frustration for our child when our adult-imposed solution runs counter to her needs.