Parenting Q&A: Parents can reinforce caring, curiosity as kids' first teachers
My kids’ teachers say that I should be supporting what they do at school by extending it at home. I’m not sure what they mean. Isn’t it their job to teach my kids? Sometimes I can’t answer the questions the children ask.
One of the hardest things about becoming a parent is the feeling that you are suddenly expected to know all kinds of things no one ever taught you.
But one of the nicest parts about being a parent can be the gradual discovery of all the resources you actually have inside. You know a lot more than you’ve realized and you’re teaching more than you thought. We can figure out how to tap into your knowledge and skills to offer your children an even richer learning environment in every part of their day.
Children look to us as grownups to keep them safe and make sense of their world. Keeping them safe is a big job, but most of us can look around, imagine possible dangers and do what’s needed to protect kids.
Making sense of their experience is a bigger challenge, since we have to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what’s important to them and what they are ready to understand.
Luckily, our kids point the way to what they need from us. Think about taking a walk with your toddler. His eyes were looking everywhere and he was pointing at everything. As soon as he could talk, the questions started.
At that point, I’m sure you could answer all the questions — you could label a squirrel; you knew the color of the truck and how big the tree was. Every moment of the day is a teachable moment.
This is what your kids’ teachers are talking about. They know what an important role you have in expanding your children’s curiosity, sharing your interests and knowledge with them and, most of all, conveying the idea that you welcome their wish to know more.
Your opinion is the most important to your kids. With your approval, they will get so much more from school and what their teachers have to offer. There are helpful websites for tips on practical ways to include these constructive moments in daily life for kids of different ages. One good one is teachmama.com.
As they get older, the questions get more complex and detailed. By the time they’re well into school, they are learning about stuff that may not even have been discovered when you were young! That’s the point at which you can teach them something far more important than the particular answer for the question.
You can set an example of being a person who has the emotional muscle to admit you aren't perfect. It isn’t embarrassing not to know something. Being a grownup or a good person doesn’t mean being a know-it-all — we all like to make friends with people who aren’t arrogant. What matters is the attitude of wanting to know, being curious and interested, and seeking how to find out.
You can give your children a crucial tool for life by engaging with them in finding out: “Let’s look that up.” “Let’s think who might know about that.” “Where do you think we could find that information?”
You were their first teacher, and now you can join with the folks at school as partners in your children’s growth.
Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, and author, with Jack Novick, of "Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children," available at Amazon.com or through