Whenever I Google anything surrounding curiosity, I am always amazed at how many of the top sites focus solely on nurturing curiosity in kids.

It has made me curious!

Childhood represents such a short part of our lifespan. So why the imbalance?

Why are adults so interested in nurturing curiosity in their kids but much less so in themselves? Particularly when, as a parent of two teenagers and formerly of two young kids, I am struck at how their curiosity has diminished thus far over their short lives.

It truly feels like we are born innately curious and grow out of it. I, for one, have yet to meet a baby who needs to have their curiosity stimulated. And yet, I’ve coached enough young boys to know that by age 10, a significant number already display the signs of mental tiredness we associate with adults.

All children are born curious – the challenge is remaining curious as we age.

In the language of Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, this thus feels like a manifestation of society’s shadow around curiosity (and play and other activities considered primarily childish). We are pushing on others (children) what we are denying about ourselves. In some ways, it seems like a collective cry to nurture our own curiosity, which we’ve decided is more suited for children.

In parallel, there is certainly a concern that children be curious about “the right things”. This is in a way anti-curiosity because curiosity, much like play, has no agenda and no purpose beyond itself. And yet, from this formless, shapeless activity comes countless benefits (Curiosity: A Short Manifesto further expands on this point).

My invitation, if you truly want to nurture your kids’ curiosity, is to model it. Nurture your own curiosity. Kids may or may not do what we say but they certainly mimic what we do. Play their games. Let go of your adult tiredness and see the world afresh. Let them teach you how to be curious and build a practice of curiosity that can in turn nourish and inspire theirs as they age.

Ideas for Cocreating Curiosity

Create a Curiosity Corner: A small space in the house filled with books, interesting objects, maps or anything that can spark curiosity in children or adults.

Question Together: When children ask questions, instead of giving them an answer right away, involve them in the process of finding out. Also, explore the question with them. Is there a deeper question “behind the question“? What does the question assume? What are they not questioning? This can make them appreciate the value of curiosity.

Explore the Outdoors: Nature is an endless source of wonder. Spend time outside, observing, asking questions and fostering a sense of wonder about the world.

Encourage Open-Ended Questions: Teach them – and remind yourself – how to ask questions that require more than a yes-or-no answer and how to avoid binary questions. This fosters deeper connection and conversations and more exploratory thought.

Further Exploration for the Curious

  • Watch a short clip of Carl Sagen discussing the importance of encouraging kids to ask questions (Youtube) or at the very least of not discouraging them from being curious.
  • George Loewenstein’s “The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation“: This seminal 24-page paper provides an overview of the psychology of curiosity and elaborates on the conditions that evoke curiosity.
  • Susan Engel’s “The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood” discusses the natural curiosity of children and how it is often discouraged by educational systems. Engel notes that although children are naturally curious, they can lose this trait when it is not fostered.
  • Todd B. Kashdan’s “Curious?” covers the role of curiosity in a fulfilling life. The author argues that curiosity is an essential ingredient for a fulfilling life, suggesting that adults would do well to nurture it in themselves, not just in their children.
Nurturing Curiosity in Kids
Curiosity in Kids

Questions in the Image:

  • Why do I want my kids to be more curious?
  • What would I like to teach them?
  • What do they see me doing?
  • What if we were curious together?

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – moments of tiredness might prompt us to ask Where might I get some rest? How might I be trying too hard?

About Tom O’Leary

I coach, mentor and teach high performers to thrive by focusing on the choices we make.

In truth, our paths in life are paved by those choices. We can talk all day but to make our lot better we need to make the smartest decisions and then execute on them as best possible.

My view is that it is about slowing down to speed up. This means spending time being curious and contemplating what might be possible so that when we take action, we can bring all our energy and power to bear.

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