Want independent, forward-thinking, happy kids? Get curious!
I become fascinated with learning about myself in my 30's. Really looking inside of myself, discovering my ideas, thoughts, desires, needs, and empowering myself to put it all into inspired action. Until then, I couldn't say for sure who I was... After some serious life experiences - which landed me in people pleasing patterns, insecure behaviours, and major workplace burnout, to name a few - I realized that a lot of my life was spent negatively externally directed rather than positively and compassionately inwardly focused. Can you relate?
With this experience (and after a long reflective period) I became obsessed with helping others learn about themselves, too. At every age. Using their mindset as a tool for success rather than a home of personal doubt, criticism and fear.
Not taking ourselves too seriously, of course!
Now when we talk about our inner experience we have to get curious...which happens to be one of my favorite mindset skills. Curiosity.
Curiosity, or looking at something with a beginners mind, is the framework of mindful awareness. When we are curious with ourselves, our thoughts, our ideas, our actions, and we also look to other's with curiosity over judgment, we unlock a part of our power:
Power to be in the present moment, noticing ourselves, our needs and others with empathy
Power to think beyond what is in front of us, we dig deeper, get creative, make connections
Power to flex and boost our brain, we can learn to support ourselves and get happy
And hey, we can find a lot of power in ourselves when we discover something new!
A lot of the benefits curiosity offers has to do with our brain function. When internal curiosity (different from external curiosity, which is what we are forced to learn in school/work/social settings) is developed - i.e. something piques your curiosity, say, an interesting fact, or an unexpected noise in the other room – your brain enters into what’s called the ‘curiosity state.’ First, the parts of the brain that are sensitive to unpleasant conditions light up. This shows that you are slightly uncomfortable, because you recognize you are lacking certain knowledge. Then, the parts of your brain responsible for learning and memory kick into high gear, so that you can learn, and remember what you’ve learned, more efficiently. It is at this point that you are primed to begin your search for answers. And when you actually begin learning new facts in your curiosity state, something even more interesting than heightened memory happens: your reward circuitry kicks in. That’s right – your brain rewards you for being curious, and for pursuing that curiosity. Researchers have determined that dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, is intricately linked to the brain’s curiosity state. When you explore and satisfy your curiosity, your brain floods your body with dopamine, which makes you feel happier. This reward mechanism increases the likelihood that you’ll try and satisfy your curiosity again in the future.
from Britannica Curiosity Compass.
Today, our curiosity is useful when we think about education, or even what makes us happy. Curiosity helps our learning process and when encouraged can lead us to internal joy!
So how can this work with our kids?
Has your kid ever asked you a question, like why does the sun go “away” at night? And you give them a basic response and move one…Been there. But let’s stop that!
The best thing you can do at this moment is fill that gap of information. I mean search for real answers, dig into the pages of the internet or find documentaries to help solve the mystery. The answers will satisfy an itch in the brain and your kid will get a hit of dopamine, that natural happy chemical that makes them feel good. And likely you will, too.
Or, another way to express curiosity is to help with their empathic curiosity, which is when they want to know about relationships, other people’s desires or how they feel. You can appreciate that when your child is in a safe, comfortable social situation, they get major hits of dopamine because their ‘curiosity state’ with that person is pleasurable. So it’s a big win chemically and emotionally.
Both forms of curiosity are important to foster in our children. When we help them understand that curiosity is their friend, we teach them that their internal voice and following their own questions and interests are important. I believe that this helps them form a foundational understanding that they can trust themselves.
When our kids know that it is safe and encouraged to follow their own questions in life, they will be more confident in their independent choices, take more risks and ultimately be courageous. Perhaps this can even uncover a passion or desire that is true to them.
Being curious also does some major flexing of the mind:
Curious people always ask questions, so their minds are always active. Since the mind is like a muscle which becomes stronger through continual exercise, the mental exercise caused by curiosity makes your mind stronger and stronger.
Your mind is observant of new ideas. When you are curious about something, your mind expects and anticipates new ideas related to the subject. Without curiosity, the ideas may pass right in front of you and yet you miss them because your mind is not prepared to recognize them.
The lives of curious people are far from boring. They are neither dull nor routine. There are always new things that attract the curious person’s attention, there are always new ‘toys’ to play with. Instead of being bored, curious people have an adventurous life.
I encourage you to build your child’s curiosity this summer. Here are some ways to do that:
Start a conversation about what curiosity means to them - can they define it, do they know how to be curious, is there something they are curious about? Let them lead the way.
Ask them daily questions, like what were you curious about today? Do you want to explore something new this week?
When they tell you a personal story, model questions with a curious lens by asking them how it made them feel? Were they curious about what happened? What do they think about the situation? This also helps foster independent thinking and self-trust.
Choose a project you can work on together. This may be something as simple as a home garden, space model, bug diary - anything that is sparked from their curiosity. Make it fun!
And remember what Einstein said, because it's important:
I have no special talents, I am just passionately curious.
Curious to know how you feed your child's curiosity, drop a comment below.