When to tell a child “I Don’t Know”

Kids need a lot of validation. You know how they will say the same statement ten times? Like “That guy has a bicycle!”

Said statement requires no response, but they will repeat it with no pauses until you say, “Uh huh” or something else (hopefully not an exasperated “Okay! We hear you!” Just me?)

Well, their questions are no different. And boy do they have a lot of questions (which the teacher in me loves… and sometimes hates).

They ask so many questions that it can sometimes feel like a burden, and you just want to put a stop to the questioning already (especially the beloved Why?).

But their questions, as simple as they seem, are really important.

Let’s ask Why. ūüėČ

  • They are learning every moment of every day, which of course we want to encourage!
  • Asking questions over and over again helps them figure out if the answer changes or not. I don’t know about you, but I want my children to know that some questions, like Who made me? , only have one never-changing answer.
  • They need to know that it’s OK – no, that’s a good thing – to ask questions. As they grow in their faith, I hope my children have lots of questions. Even when I don’t have the answers! If they have lots of questions that we think through, they will have more investment into their faith.
  • and maybe most importantly… they are discovering where answers come from. When our children are young, we want to show them that mommy may not have all of the information, but she is one of the best sources for answers out there.

Let’s hang out on that last point.

We’re teaching our kiddos some pretty awesome things about God and Jesus, aren’t we? Hello resurrection! Of course, the Holy Spirit is the One who will bring our children to the Lord if He wills it. But God has designed us to be their primary disciplers in their youth.

So if our children learn, through experience, that mommy and daddy almost always have thorough, correct answers to their non-spiritual questions, who do you think they will look to first to have their faith-based questions answered?

Well if Chloe’s mom down the street or that kid in homeroom is always giving them the answers, they’re definitely going to take their questions outside of the home.

We should definitely be honest with our kids when we don’t know something. We never should sabotage their trust in us because we think we should have it all figured out. It’s OK to say I don’t know! It’s even better to say, “… but let’s see how we can figure it out.” If the question is faith-based, you can go to the Bible or ask a friend or youth pastor – but be involved in that conversation. Don’t just slough it off onto someone else.

If the question doesn’t have one answer (or you just don’t know what the answer is), encourage them to consider some possible answers. For example, “Why are those men digging?” might lead to, “Well, I don’t know for sure, but often when men in construction gear are digging near a street light they are working on the electricity.”

What we don’t want to do is use I DON’T KNOW as a way to say BE QUIET. YOU’RE BOTHERING ME. It’s OK to say so if it’s not an appropriate time for questions, but be sure to follow up with them later.

Let’s rethink how we’re responding to our kids’ questions and redeem those moments. Use them as opportunities to build trust, not simply a time to wield power.

2 thoughts on “When to tell a child “I Don’t Know”

  1. Jane Sadek

    Asking questions is important at any age. At some point we think we have it figured out, but then we’re in danger of jumping to conclusions. After almost 20 years of knowing my husband, not all of the answers still fit. For sure there are things, like the love of God, that don’t change, but I’m learning that a lot of what Bill thought he knew about me had actually changed. Then I realized he was probably feeling the same way. Re-visiting the whys is proving to be an important exercise.

    1. Stephanie Post author

      So true Jane! I love that part of being married for a long time – you change and your hubby change and you get to do it together – it’s great!

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