A few weeks ago, on the drive home from school, Ilah launched into an emotional oration about war and why it was lame. Her passionate ten-minute speech spurred from seeing a group of Indigenous men walking along the side of the road.
Her first question: why are they here?
My response: maybe they were walking home from the shop just up the road.
Ilah: No, why are they here?
My response: Indigenous peoples have lived in Australia for 40,000 years. White people arrived only a couple of hundred of years ago. Indigenous people have always lived in Australia.
And with that she informed me of all the reasons why war (people fighting and stealing each others land) was lame and how we all live in one world and should share it with everyone.
I was speechless. Tears welling up at this incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking dialogue delivered from a six-year old.
As she grows older, her Mum, Dad and I find that we are constantly checking in with each other on her latest questions and queries about the world she is growing up in. How much do we tell her? How much do we try to protect her from? How do we encourage her to be a passionate and contributing member of our global and local community? How do we deal with the disagreements that come from raising a child who questions the workings of the world, and some times feels like she knows everything already? Because, honestly, we do butt heads… and regularly at that. But, that is kind of the point of raising a child to be aware of what is going on in their world.
But, watching the wheels turn and an idea or concept click in her mind is an amazing experience. The past few months as Ilah has launched into her mission to save the turtles, she has begun to make connections between practices she used to do all the time and how they are impacting the planet. Yesterday, she realised that Barbie is made from plastic. To say she was devastated was an understatement! She has however, consciously chosen to ask for a drink without a straw or to pass on the toys that come with take away meals, because these are just extra bits of plastic that will ultimately end up in the rubbish. She connected the dots and realised that she has enough toys, and the little toys that come with those sorts of meals usually break straight away so they are just a waste. It doesn’t stop her from asking for every other toy she sees, but she is beginning to understand why we say no to all of these requests.
Supporting a child to question and engage with the world around them is time consuming and exhausting. Once you start down the rabbit hole there is no telling where it will stop. But, the benefits far outweigh the never-ending list of questions. So here are a few of our tips for raising conscious kids that we’ve learnt on our journey so far…
1. Be Honest
Answer children’s questions about the world honestly. That doesn’t mean you need to give them an in-depth graphic or detailed answer, but, decide what you feel they are able to understand and comprehend, then answer as best as you can. For instance, at five and a half years old Ilah asked how babies were made. We gave a very brief biological explanation (as the question stemmed from a discussion about chicken eggs, so we were already halfway there with the explanation anyway), without going into graphic detail, but said that we would explain it more to her when she was a bit older and would better understand the process. That was what we felt comfortable with and what we knew she would be able to understand at the time. On the other hand, her questions about turtles and plastic pollution we’ve been able to dive right into. With access to so many wonderful resources online and good old Google, it is easy now to do a little research with your child and find answers to their questions together.
Honesty extends to not knowing an answer too. Little people are constantly looking to the adults in their lives to learn and emulate behaviours. It can seem to them that we have all the answers, or already know every thing. Be honest with them if you don’t know something and use the opportunity to learn more together.
2. Be Supportive
Perhaps your child’s questions go against, or bring into question, your beliefs. It can be difficult to stay impartial and allow them to reach their own conclusions. By taking time to do a little research with them or engage in constructive discussions around the information they discover, children learn to form opinions and beliefs, while knowing that they will be supported if their belief is different to a parent/family member. They begin to understand that it is okay for people to have different beliefs and still get on in the world.
3. Be Available
Make time and space to explore your child’s questions and interests. By all means, you’re not going to be googling “how to” questions or youtube videos while trying do the nightly bath and dinner routine, but listen to your child as they talk. Be aware of the tone of their voice, the subtle cues they are giving you, that tell you that what they are talking about is something of interest to them. Ask a question about what they are chatting about that shows them you are listening and encourages them to continue.
Alternatively, when you are available (listening, ready to engage in discussion, etc) you can use everyday occurrences to inform and educate your little person. Instead of fighting over why they can’t have the toy from the shop, take some time to explain the environmental or social impact of the toy and why you are saying no. Pick and choose your times to get into these discussions. Some times a straight “no” is all that is needed (Friday afternoon end of the week meltdowns are a no-go for rationale discussions for us), and other times you will sense that your child is open to learning and engaging at a deeper level on a topic.
Kids start out asking “why?” from a very early age. This is not just to be annoying (although, 120 whys into the day and you’re likely to have zero patience left!), children genuinely want to know and understand how the world around them works. They want to understand how to function in their community, in their relationships with loved ones, and within them selves. Questioning everything they see, hear and do, is how they begin to grow and develop into their own unique beings. Take the plunge down the rabbit hole, you never know where your child’s questions might take you. And you just might learn a thing or two yourself.