Our 11 year-old still asks plenty of questions, but also looks things up for himself online. Our seven year-old fires off barrages of questions when she wakes up, to and from school, during dinner, before bed — basically anytime she can get a word in edgeways.
I have sympathy, therefore, for Emma Marris, who decided to show those who aren’t parents of young children (or perhaps those who have forgotten) what it’s like.
I decided to write down every question that required a decision that my my two kids asked me during a single day. This doesn’t include simple requests for information like “how do you spell ‘secret club’?” or “what is the oldest animal in the world?” or the perennial favorite, “why do people have to die?” Recording ALL the questions two kids ask in a day would be completely intractable. So, limiting myself to just those queries that required a decision, here are the results.
Some of my favourites from her long list:
- Can I play on your phone until you wake up?
- Can we listen to bouncy music instead of this podcast about the Mueller investigation while we make breakfast?
- Will you pre-chew my gumball since it is too large to fit in my mouth?
- Will you tell us who you are texting?
- Do you want to eat the meat out the tail of this shrimp?
Marris says in the comments that her kids are eight and five years old, respectively. You can kind of tell that from the questions.
I’m not saying we’re amazing parents, but one thing we try and do is to not just tell our children the answer to their questions, but tell them how we worked it out. That’s particularly important if we used some kind of device to help us find the answer. Recently, I’ve been using the Google Assistant which feels to an adult almost interface-free. However, there’s a definite knack to it that you forget once you’re used to using it.
Over and above that, a lot of questions that children ask are permission and equality-related. In other words, they’re asking if they’re allowed to do something, or if you’ll intervene because the other child is doing something they shouldn’t / gaining an advantage. Both my wife and I have been teachers, and the same is true in the classroom.
There’s a couple of things I’ve learned here:
- If children are asking a lot of permission-related questions, then it’s worth your while to help them understand what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Allow them to help themselves more than they do currently.
- If children are complaining about equality and they’re different ages, explain to both of them that you treat them equitably but not eqully. When they complain that’s not fair, send the older one to bed at the same time as the younger one (and perhaps give them the same amount of pocket money), and get the younger one to help more around the house. They don’t stop complaining, but they certainly do it less…
Why is all of this important? Making decisions makes you tired. To quote Marris’ first paragraph as the last one in this one:
Decision fatigue is real. Decision fatigue is the mental exhaustion and reduced willpower that comes from making many, many micro-calls every day. My modern American lifestyle, with its endless variety of choices, from a hundred kinds of yogurt at the grocery store to the more than 4,000 movies available on Netflix, breeds decision fatigue. But it is my kids that really fry my brain. At last I understand that my own mother’s penchant for saying “ask your father” wasn’t deference to her then husband but the most desperate sort of buck-passing–especially since my father dealt with decision fatigue by saying yes to pretty much everything, which is how my brothers and I ended up taking turns rolling down the steep hill we grew up on inside an aluminum trash can.
Source: The Last Word on Nothing