If you’re like pretty much every parent ever, your children are constantly pummeling you with an unending barrage of questions. Things like:
- “Who is coming to my birthday party?”
- “What happens inside a chrysalis when a caterpillar is becoming a butterfly?”
- “When is dinner going to be ready?”
- “Where do babies come from? Be specific.”
- And “Why? Why not? Why do I have to? Why can’t I? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?!?”
If you think your kids ask a lot of questions, you’re right. Researchers from the University of California, Merced, recorded and transcribed everything children said during activities while actively engaged with parents, like meals and playtime, then calculated that preschool-aged kids ask an average of 76 information-seeking questions per hour! No wonder parenting is so exhausting.
Kids are so curious that they don’t even wait until they can form well-structured questions to start asking them. Young children begin using inquisitive sounds, gestures and context clues combined with one- or two-word statements to get the information they crave — like when our one-year-old gives us an adorable shoulder shrug gesture to tell us she doesn’t know something, or holds up a broken toy and says “Daddy?” to find out if he can fix it.
Kids don’t ask questions all the time to annoy us. They do it because they’re on a constant quest to understand the world, and adults are amazing sources of information. So the next time your little news reporter starts interrogating you with a laundry list of inquiries, remember:
- Questions are ideal situations for learning. Kids ask questions when they’re genuinely interested in the answer — and interest is one of the most important ingredients for learning!
- When parents give good answers, kids learn to identify good information. Substantive, factual answers don’t just teach your kids about the question at hand. They also show them how to be better consumers and evaluators of information in the future.
- Questions are invitations for conversation. When your children hit puberty, they might not want to hear your voice at all, but right now they’re actually asking. So seize the bonding opportunity!
- Kids ask questions when they can’t figure things out on their own. Sure, children discover much about the world through observation and play, but some things can’t be learned that way. Little journalists need good sources — so be one!
Your Child is a Super Storyteller
After your junior journalist has asked all those questions, and (hopefully) gotten the straight scoop from you, there’s only one thing left to do: Tell everybody about it.
And kids have been practicing that skill since birth.
The first stories newborn babies tell are titled I’m Hungry, I’m Sleepy, I Want You to Pick Me Up and I Pooped. And they all sound the same: “Waaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!”
Not the most elegant pieces of prose, we know. But very effective at getting their messages across.
When kids are about two years old, they reach the major storytelling milestone of beginning to mention past events in conversation. And around six, they start telling complete stories with characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution.
But so what? Storytelling is just a way for kids to pass the time, right?
Hardly. Telling stories is a hugely important form of communication — for all people, all around the world. We become friends by ditching small talk and telling personal stories from our lives. We cook amazing meals by recalling stories about how our grandmothers used to make them. And we convince people not to build houses on the side of active volcanoes by sharing stories about some unfortunate townspeople who once got covered in lava.
Each time you tell a story, your child learns lessons about the value of discussing past events, what kind of events are worth recounting, how a good story is constructed and which details to include. So:
- Share stories all the time. Reading lots of books is an obvious way to do this – but in our house, we mix it up and tell “stories from our minds” too.
- Talk about past events. Have frequent conversations about experiences you’ve shared, like your trip to the zoo, or that time the cat escaped to the neighbor’s house. Research shows this can improve your child’s storytelling — and memory — skills!
- Get the details. Be sure to discuss many different aspects of your shared events, like how you got to the zoo, which animals you saw, what the animals were doing and more. Guiding kids through the details will help them tell richer, more meaningful tales.
Is your kid ready to tackle a career in journalism right now? Tell us about it in the comments!