8-4 Family works — emotional development

Posted 8/31/19

Speaking on Stage 3 of Emotional Development – Initiative versus guilt

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8-4 Family works — emotional development


Speaking on Stage 3 of Emotional Development – Initiative versus guilt

Family Works                       [August 4, 2019]

Why is the sky blue? Why are the ants crossing the sidewalk in a line? Why do flowers come in different colors? Why are oranges sweet and lemons sour? Why do animals make different sounds?

Anyone who has been around a 4 or 5-year-old for any length of time knows there are endless “why” questions. Parents who wondered if they would ever see the end to the seemingly endless “no” statements, are now wondering if there is an inexhaustible list of why questions just waiting to come out.

Regardless of culture, nationality, or race, just like children everywhere in the world start saying “no” at age 2 (see last week’s column), children by 4 are asking “why.” This tells us that “why” questions are a natural and normal part of human development.

Children of this age have acquired considerable motor control, language ability, and intellectual competence. They are curious about their world and eager to explore it, and what better way to express curiosity than asking why.

Like sponges, they want to absorb information. They want to learn. They want to know how things work. Naturally, they turn to their parents because parents, in the eyes of a preschooler, are all knowing. Right?

Sadly, as the child asks such simple questions as why the sky is blue or why ants travel in a line or why flowers come in different colors or why some fruits are sour while others are sweet, they slowly come to understand that their parents are not nearly as smart as he once believed.

This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the beginning of seeing the parent as human, with limited knowledge and understanding. This can be somewhat humbling for the parent, but fear not as this is the beginning of true intimacy.

Once the parent is off the pedestal, the child begins to relate to you as a person, not as a god. This can be empowering for both the child and the parent.  And, if by chance, the child learns something you do not know, the child will feel especially empowered. That’s exciting.

In order to encourage this natural curiosity, expose him to opportunities where he can learn how things work. Children at this age love to take things apart. Take things apart together and you quickly see how eager your child is to see how things work.
Regular visits to a children’s discovery museum provide wonderful opportunities for exploration. Walks in the woods or along a stream also provide exciting opportunities to explore how our world works. 

Sadly, if children’s questions are not answered (or answered harshly or answered with ridicule), if parents are too busy to provide exploration opportunities, the child may develop a sense of guilt about his or her sense of curiosity and desire to explore.

Unfortunately, this sense of guilt established in early childhood can provide a lifelong orientation that leads the child to believe that there is something wrong with wanting to know. Rather than learning being a joy, it becomes a negative experience. Such children often lose interest even before they begin school. 

Please, be patient with why questions and see them as opportunities for teachable moments.

Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.


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