Monday, May 13, 2024

"I Know"

I had an older relative who would respond to almost everything anyone said with "I know." You might say, "Pearl Harbor Day is just around the corner" and she would respond "I know." Now maybe she did know about Pearl Harbor Day (December 7). She was a well-educated person, but she'd also say "I know" to things she couldn't possibly have know. 

"I got out of bed this morning, stubbed my toe, and decided to go back to bed." "I know."

"You have a 'kick me' sign taped to your back." "I know."

"We discovered that our child has been disposing of her chewed gum between the seat cushions in the car." "I know."

All of these are actual examples. It would be comical if it hadn't been so damned irritating. I'm sure it was driven by a deep-rooted desire of some sort, perhaps it comforted her to always feel that she is in the know. I'm sure one could trace it back to a time when she was embarrassed that she didn't know or, worse, to an authority figure who chided her for not knowing. We learned long ago that confronting her about the habit, even gently, only results in angry denial, so we all strived to simply accept it as a quirk that we could chuckle about in commiseration on the drive home.

I'm thinking about his because I recently spent a 30 hour day traveling by air and spent 11 of those hours seated across the aisle from a young family: a mother, father, and two young children aged five and two. At first, the kids were fired up, the way children ought to be when flying.

"Mommy! Look! I have a little table!"

"I know."

"This button makes the seat tip back!"

"I know."

"They gave us blankets and pillows!"

"I know."

With each "I know" the children became less enthusiastic. Those "I knows" told the children that what they were noticing, what they were thinking, what they were experiencing was nothing special. Indeed, "I know" told the children that their discoveries were mere commonplaces, not worthy of discussion. "I know" told them that they were ignorant. And, sadly, it was only a matter of minutes before the children were bored enough that they began to pick petty fights with one another.

If the goal is to shut another person down, "I know" is one of the most effective ways to do it. It tells the other person that they are wasting their breath. In effect "I know" tells them that they are not interesting, and, really, to just shut up. This may make it an effective way of dealing with tedious mansplaining, but an otherwise horrible response to just about anything else.

As important adults in the lives of children, our role is not to know things, but rather to support them in their knowing. This doesn't mean that we must respond with false enthusiasm (e.g., "That's awesome!" or "You're so smart!") because the kids will see through that in a second. It does mean, however, that when we've been invited into their learning we can, without shutting them down, in the natural flow of dialog, acknowledge or extend their discovery in some way: 

"I see your little table."

"And if you push the button again it makes the seat pop back up." 

"Later they will also give us ear buds so we can watch that little screen." 

Or, when it can be said honestly, "I didn't know that. Thank you for telling me."

Part way into our flight I was trying to sleep when an altercation from across the aisle roused me. The mother was attempting to foist literacy worksheets onto her daughter. "Your teacher expects you to have these done before we get back." "I know," the daughter replied with a growl, folding her arms and glaring at the seat back in front of her. 

"They're not hard." "I know," she snarled again. 

"You can watch your show as soon as you're done." "I know!" This time she shouted. I was proud of her. Not only was she rebelling against the inanity of worksheets and the useless practice of assigned homework, but she was showing that she fully understands what it means when we reply, "I know."


"I know" is just one example of how even small changes in the way we speak with children can make a huge difference. If you're interested in learning more about how the language we use with children impacts not just our relationships with them, but also their entire learning environment, please consider registering for my 6-week course The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think. Join the 2024 cohort as we examine how the language we use with children creates reality. We will explore how even small changes in how we speak with children creates an environment in which cooperation and peacefulness are the norm, where children take the initiative, solve their own problems, and, most importantly, think for themselves. Click here for more information and to register.

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