Despite how the saying goes, curiosity is an incredibly important part of our human existence. It's a way of life we should instil in our kids from a young age.
Curiosity can come with some health warnings. Constant dissatisfaction with the now and the pursuit of more knowledge for its own sake are not traits I’d wish for my kids. But cultivating curious minds in your kids will play a hugely positive part in their success.
Stephen Hawking advice on curiosity is “to look up at the stars and not down at your feet” to be curious. Looking away from yourself, not settling for what you ‘assume’ is the answer is certainly part of the puzzle. For Hawking and many famous ‘explorers’, that metaphorical idea is easy to put into practice – you’re constantly looking at the world out there quite literally and can remind yourself of how large and mysterious it all is.
Curiosity should lift your gaze from yourself, to what’s out there in the world beyond.
Curiosity doesn’t tolerate pride. When you're looking away from yourself, you realise your insignificance in the world – you’re humbled by how small you are in comparison to the depth and complexity of the people and things around you.
Curiosity doesn’t allow for boredom. It’s always asking the question “I wonder what happens if…”.
Curiosity doesn’t let you stagnate. It doesn’t let you draw a line under what you know about something and say that’ll do.
Curiosity also doesn’t let you be a bigot. It doesn’t let you remain steeped in your assumptions and unmoved by the idea that maybe someone or something might surprise you or change your thinking on something.
These are all characteristics I would want for my kids. But how do you go about cultivating more curiosity? The good news is, there’s lots we can do as parents to encourage curious minds even in very young children. And it doesn’t require you to get the telescope out.
First, ask kids questions, really listen to their answers, and follow up with your own questions that include ‘Why…?’.
Kids are experts at asking ‘Why?’, and we should learn from them. They’re naturally curious already and we can take that curiosity to the next level simply by playing them at their own game. Ask them the question ‘Why do you think that is?” and just see where the conversations take you. It will get them exercising their curiosity reflex more regularly and encourage them to think beyond the perspective of what they’ve seen or experienced.
Second, give kids space and freedom to investigate and learn for themselves. If you’re always available, waiting to jump in with a helping hand or to do things for them, they’ll never get the joy of figuring things out for themselves. We wrote here about how making sure your world doesn't revolve around your kids is essential to their success.
Pausing a beat before rushing in to help, allowing them to struggle first and waiting to be asked rather than taking the initiative yourself all help create those small spaces where curiosity can thrive. Giving kids the space to have a go means they have room to ask ‘What happens if…” and develop their sense of curiosity. It’s why GRASP is all about creating the tools to help kids build independent health and hygiene skills.
Third, and most importantly in the recipe for encouraging curiosity is promoting kindness.
Kindness can be a misunderstood quality. It’s not quite love, and it’s not just about being 'nice' or 'polite'. At its heart kindness is about being generous with the consideration we give to others. It’s something Shreya and I teach our own kids all the time – encouraging them to empathise, to offer someone else a turn first, to say hello to others and to think about ways to help others before thinking about themselves.
Kindness is a praiseworthy attribute of a child all by itself, but it also works subtly to do exactly what Hawking says - taking kids’ eyes off themselves. The truth is unkind people are not very curious. No one finds out new information, learns about new people or unpicks parts of human nature if they don’t spare the time to think of others or consider the world of people outside themselves.
Raising kind kids doesn’t always get the plaudits, it doesn’t make us think of high achievement and genius, but deep down it’s a characteristic without which kids will not reach any of those heights.
Cultivating curiosity is hard work. It won’t happen if you’re too hands-off. It won’t happen if you resign yourself to having selfish kids who don’t know how to share, You've got to demonstrate and continually show them what kindness looks like. It requires constant effort.
Cultivating curiosity means navigating between stepping back and creating space for your kids while always being ready to step in and listen, ask questions, and lead your kids into greater kindness.
That hard works is the joy and blessing of parenting. It contains its own mystery and only the truly curious parent will make the effort to unlock it in their kids.