Of all the challenges of parenthood, few can become as aggravating as the dreaded, “I don’t know” syndrome! Now, “I don’t know” is a perfectly good response when you’re asked for information that you simply don’t have. In fact, it takes solid self-esteem to honestly say, “I don’t know” rather than to make up an answer to avoid embarrassment. But, there is another kind of “I don’t know” response you often receive from your children when asking for their opinions or feelings that can become quite frustrating for parents, because no one but your children do know! It can easily grow to such epidemic proportions that parents can begin to feel like they are sitting in the dentist’s chair having a root canal without Novocain!
When the syndrome is in full force it seems that no matter what you ask your children:
- What would you like for dinner?
- Where would you like to go this weekend?
- How is school going?
- What do you think about X?
You get the same three-word answer: “I don’t know” accompanied by an indifferent shrug and empty expression. It’s not really an answer at all. It’s simply a reflex, a simple and usually very effective way to keep from thinking, feeling, and communicating. It allows children to detach from real conversation and connection. Like television, the “I don’t know” syndrome allows children to glaze over with a blank stare and stand disengaged off to the side, away from real involvement, participation, and risk. But the old adage, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is filled with wisdom. Until we assist our children and teammates to get in the game, playing full out and risking occasional mistakes along the way, we cannot truly help them grow. “I don’t know” may be safe and secure, but over time it is demoralizing and ultimately paralyzing to the spirit.
So how in the world do you deal with this insidious epidemic of disinterest? John Grinder and Richard Bandler, the founders of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) came up with a simple and remarkably effective method for healing the “I don’t know” syndrome. The next time you hear those dreaded three words from your children, simply respond this way:
“I know you don’t know. But, if you DID know, how would you do it?”
Wham! Instantly your children will shock you by actually responding with their thoughts, opinions, or ideas. It’s as if you’ve given them permission to present their view freely without pressure or fear of saying something wrong. Gradually they come to realize that their perspective has value and importance. The “I don’t know” is replaced with full presence, confidence, engagement, and vitality.