How to ensure children think you’re a moron

Intentionally provocative headline. But this has been weighing on my mind lately―how adults tend to have one dominant mode of interaction with children, and that is … quizzing. “What’s two plus two?” “Do you know what kind of animal that is?” “How do you spell hippopotamus?”

I don’t think, in most cases, it’s meant to be disrespectful―and although we homeschooling parents tend to get particularly tense about this when the relatives do it to our children, I don’t think it’s meant to be a real check on our children’s knowledge. It is, quite simply, ignorance. Most adults don’t know how to talk to children: they don’t think they can just have a conversation with a child the way they would have it with a fellow grown-up. And asking questions to which they already know the answers is their default mode.

Do you do this? Stop. Do your parents, your friends do this to your kids? Tell them to stop. And here’s why. A while ago, we had a visitor in the house who was invited by Cinder and Flora to read their new book to them. They cuddled up on either side of him, and he started reading… but but instead of just reading, he started every second paragraph with a question to them, testing their knowledge of what he was about to read to them―before he read it to them. (“This next section is about atoms. What are atoms?”)

Two things happened. First, Cinder and Flora abandoned what was intended to be a really fun and bonding moment for them and our friend. They did not sign up for a test here: they wanted to read a book with someone they loved. Second, as soon as our visitor left, Cinder came to me, perplexed and thoughtful, struggling to get some complex thought out. Finally it came:

“I thought Hiero was really smart. But he sure doesn’t know much about science, does he?”

Hiero could have just read to them, and what they would have remembered is, “Yeah, last time Hiero came, we read Mad Science together, it was so cool, remember that experiment?” And instead…

Here’s the thing: our friend is pretty smart. AND he didn’t mean to be disrespectful of Cinder and Flora. But he doesn’t spend much time with children, and as he tried to find a way to interact with them, he used as a model… what? The way adults interacted with him when he was a child. And perpetuated the cycle.

Do your part to break the cycle. Don’t talk to children as if you’re administrating an oral exam. Or they’ll walk away from the experience thinking you’re, y’know, a bit dim.

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...