Some days it is just the hardest thing to do, listening and responding to endless, seemingly inane and completely illogical chatter. Nonetheless, nurturing that precious inquisitive mind, feeding it information – always truthfully, toned down to the child’s level of possible understanding and confessing when we have no answers – is a fantastic parental contribution.
Little children exist in the blissful belief that their parents know everything. They believe that they too will one day understand and know all there is to know. In their minds knowledge is finite and at some point we acquire it all; parents are there to provide information as and when called upon to do so, often with relentless regularity during all waking hours.
Parents of little children know what persistence this translates into, reducing even the most dedicated parents to mental images of explosions – their own heads. When it gets to the stage of “why did I sit here?” most parents are flummoxed and the old ways of rearing children - “seen and not heard” suddenly become hugely appealing.
Young children have a curiosity and a thirst for knowledge that is marvellous to behold. Tedious and exhausting this may be, but it is also a wonderful sign of their intellectual powers, reasoning skills and analytical minds.
Our forefathers did not encourage their children to question, analyse and probe. Children were meant to listen to their superiors, be silent unless spoken to, and obedient above all else. While this way of rearing children did not result in less intelligent and sharp minded adults; it did rear them to be followers, who followed their leader without questioning his thinking and the moral and ethical correctness of the instructions. That this has often led to terrible consequences throughout history cannot be disputed.
Those who question, however irritating this may seem to a parent, are gathering facts to make up their own mind. Once in possession of their own judgement on a subject, they are far more likely to follow their own mind and become independent in their critical thinking, than those who do not bother asking questions, or are actively discouraged from doing so.
Knowledge is power. A child who questions, analyses and looks for connections is more likely to be a leader than a follower. Answering the most challenging, random and convoluted questions all day is exhausting and unfair on the parent. Without quashing your child’s intellectual curiosity, there are steps you can take to have a break. This is necessary both for you AND your child.
When you really cannot face another question:
• In the car if you would like to have a few minutes’ silence to think, put on classical music softly. It will not bother you, but it will quiet a chatty child.
• If you have an i-Pod, download stories on to it, so that your child can listen to these through earphones.
• Agree that there are times when mum needs 10 or 15 minutes peace with no talking. Get a clock and allow him or her to watch for when the time is up. With gradual training, they will accept your need for peace and give it to you whenever asked. For only children this is even more important. As there is only one of them, they are used to being attended to at once. Once they are in a class of 25 or more this could become a problem.
• At meal times encourage taking turns to talk and chatty small children should be not be given more time than any other members of the family.
Families with small children often find that all mealtime conversation is shaped by the youngest children. Keep things in proportion. Making your chatty child listen politely without interrupting is vital training for later classroom behaviour.
• You could introduce a “quiet half hour” during weekends and afternoons, where silent activity is to take place. Teaching children to be silent is extremely good training for their time at school. The child who is forever at the teacher’s elbow is not going to be as popular with most teachers as the one who has learnt to have quiet times getting on with a task.
• When choosing a “story” opt occasionally for a non-fiction book on a subject your child has asked you about. Seeing that their enquiries are considered important by their parents gives children an additional boost as well as some more tangible information. You do not have to read the whole book cover to cover.
Above all do not beat yourself up if you fail to answer hour upon hour of the most pointless-seeming stream of inquisition. Your parents and grandparents did their school work, spent their free time outdoors, ate, slept and played, pretty much unsupervised. Never before have parents had so much virtually constant involvement with every aspect of their child’s life. Children are driven around, supervised, encouraged, challenged, nurtured in every aspect of their lives, putting so much more on to parents. In addition we now have an understanding of psychology, nutrition, medicine and child behaviour that makes virtually every step a parent takes a minefield of potential errors, with purported dire and far reaching consequences.
Do the best you can; you are allowed bad days.
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children