The #1 Thing To Teach Your Kids That Will Help Them Throughout Life

brain development in children confident kids intentional parenting kid's developing brains parenting tips Dec 09, 2021
Teach Your Kids What Happens When They Say I Don't Know

If I told you there was one thing that you could teach your kids that would help them every single time they were stuck not knowing what to do — one thing that could help them figure things out in every single aspect of their lives, can you imagine what it is? 

I’m guessing that many of you are going to answer “I don’t know”, and ironically, that is actually the answer!  

I’m going to go on a bit of a rant today, because thinking I don’t know completely impacts your ability to think of ideas, answers, solutions, and possibilities.  If I could take the phrase I don’t know out of the English language I totally would, but since I can’t, I’m working to teach this concept to as many parents as I can so kids are raised to understand the power of I don’t know, and how to think differently.  Let me explain why.

It starts with understanding our brains better.  We all have something called a Reticular Activating System in our brain, or RAS.  Your RAS is your filter that allows you to process what is going on around you.  I don’t know the exact numbers, and they seem to change by source, but we have somewhere around 40 million bits of data that come at us every second —  Every single thing you hear, see, smell, feel, taste.  Your conscious brain can only handle 4,000 bits of data.  Otherwise you would constantly be in information overload.  

Your RAS filters out information based on what matches up to your thoughts and beliefs, and it’s filtering out 39,996,000 of the 40 million bits of data.  That is a huge amount of data filtered OUT.  Your brain is also very literal and has no sense of humor. So when you think I don’t know, your brain immediately shuts down because you’ve told it to.  You’ve already stated that you don’t know the answer so it stops working on any possible solutions, and it will filter based on this as well.

This just happened with my son this week.  He was working on replacing a computer part in his computer and had misplaced an important screw.  He called me up on the phone as he was looking for it, because he was extremely frustrated.  He knew it was in his room somewhere, but he had looked everywhere for it and kept repeating “I don’t know where it could be”.

I started by having him take a few deep breaths to calm down, and then I told him to start thinking “I know it’s in my room because I haven’t left, so I know that I’m going to be able to find it.”  As I was calmly explaining the concept of his brain filter to him, I could hear him scrambling around on his end and voila!  He found the screw under his keyboard.  

He commented that he had looked there at least five times.  I explained that when he was thinking “I don’t know where it could be” he wasn’t going to be able to find it.  His brain had filtered it out so he couldn’t even see it, because he was telling his brain he didn’t know where it could be. When he told his brain he knew that he could find it, his brain started filtering for it.

How many times have you walked around searching for your keys while thinking “I don’t know where they are” or “I can’t find them”? But when you were suddenly distracted so you stopped thinking that thought, you see your keys — right on the table that you had walked past at least five times.  

Once you stopped thinking I don’t know, your brain stopped filtering them out so you could actually see them.

On the flip side, you know when you are trying to remember the name of a person, song or movie, and you can’t think of it right away?  You follow that up with the thought I know that it will come back to me.  It may be minutes or hours later, but the answer you were looking for will pop up in your mind.  When you tell your brain I know it will come back to me, your brain will keep working on it in the background, sifting through data like a computer, until it comes up with the answer.

Even though I know this concept, I still find myself thinking I don’t know often.  It’s ingrained in us from a very young age — a thought habit that is hardwired in our brains.  If I could go back and raise my kids to understand the power of “I don’t know” from a young age, I would, because trying to retrain them (and myself!) later in life is more challenging.  Just like my son, we all tend to fall back into old thought habits easily — especially when we are frustrated! 

Imagine how helpful this would be to your child at school when they are taking a test and come across a challenging question.  Instead of thinking “I don’t know the answer”, they could think “I studied this material and I know that I’m going to be able to come up with the answer”, or at least “I know I can figure this out”.

This is helpful for you and your kids in any situation when you find yourself thinking “I don’t know” in regards to any situation.  If you catch yourself thinking I don’t know, try some different thought options:

  • But if I did know, what might be a good first step?
  • I know I can come up with at least one idea or solution.
  • I know I can figure this out.

Because your brain is literal, you want to clearly direct it to start working on ideas and coming up with possible solutions.  When you do, your brain will start sifting through data to come up with an answer or possible solutions.

So how do you start introducing this to your kids?  There are actually a number of different things you can do, but the best is just to just turn it back on them with a question when they say “I don’t know”.  You could respond:

  • Can you think of just one possible idea?  Take your time, we’re not in a rush. Or...
  • You may not know right now, but you’ve figured things out before.  What do you think might be a first step to figuring it out?

Think about how valuable this tool is for anyone at any stage of life, and how learning this at a young age could literally change everything.  Our brains are the most powerful tool that we have available to us in any single moment — you just have to know how to use it to help you, and not use it against you.

This is just one of the tools in my Parenting Toolbox that I share with parents when they are ready to start becoming a Parent Coach, so they can raise more resilient, confident, and emotionally intelligent kids.  I hope that you will teach this to your kids too so we can start building a new emotionally healthy and happy generation from the ground up!

Kids don’t come with a Parenting Manual, and parenting in the 21st Century is so different than it was for our parents.  That’s where I come in!  I know all of the latest research and strategies, and I teach parents to keep their cool and communicate better so they can effectively navigate the challenges of modern parenting.  If you want to learn more about Parenting on Purpose and check out the free resources that I have developed to help parents, go to and check out Inspirations and Resources.

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