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Wooden dice with the word Why on top of it

Kids ask the best questions. Big questions, weird questions, hard questions, funny questions, unanswerable questions.

It’s that last sort that seems to throw us off the most as adults. Sometimes it’s because the question is both hard and unanswerable (“When are we going to die?”). Other times, it’s unanswerable simply because we don’t personally have an answer. And that throws a lot of us for a loop.

Why is that? I suspect it’s often because as adults, we live with the societal expectation that we are supposed to have all the answers. As ridiculous as that is, it still flares up when kids catch us unawares.

When a kid asks you an unanswerable question, how do you respond? Is your reflex to own that you don’t know? Do you answer honestly with that response: “I don’t know.” Or do you fake it? Dodge the question? Lie? Shut down the conversation?

Kids’ questions, especially the hard ones and the unanswerable ones, are a great place to practice our own curiosity and to embrace imperfection. Telling a child “I don’t know” models for them that it’s okay to sit with the unknowns. That it’s okay to not have all the answers at hand. It also opens a door for shared exploration. Has the child asked something that you can research together? Can you discuss what experts are still learning or don’t yet know about the topic? Is it an unanswerable question that simply deserves to be celebrated for its eternal unknowns?

The next time you are getting peppered with “Whys,” pause to cherish the innate curiosity that is childhood. And see where those questions can take you—together.

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