How to Raise Virtue Prodigies
Leveraging Curiosity in Conversations
While walking my 9-year-old daughter Violet to elementary school, we pass “the little physicist in the Radio Flyer Red Wagon.” Always in matching pajama tops and bottoms. Always pulled by his grandfather.1
The little physicist parks the wagon in front of a speed bump.
The grandfather ramps up anticipatory excitement:
“Here comes another car, get ready!”
“Let’s see if this expensive sports car drives too fast.”
“I think sparks are gonna fly.”
The grandfather and his boy clap if a car, truck, or motorcycle drives at fast clips with the suspension system scraping against the speed bump. If there is a leak of hydraulic fluid, noxious sound effect, or “lightning bolts,” even better.
The little physicist draws conclusions about cause and effect. Ensuring lessons stick, the grandfather offers post-mortem commentary.
“I didn’t expect to see so much lightning with that one, did you?”
“That was a smart, slow driver.”
“That guy didn’t even notice the bump, no wonder it made so much noise.”
The grandfather doesn’t treat the child as an underdeveloped adult — someone who must pass an exam to discuss physics. This 3-year old is treated as a conversational companion. While the little physicist contributes little in the verbal department, his reactions are what makes the excursion fun and meaningful.
The boy no longer just points at sparks.
Now he points at big trucks 10 meters away, predicting a “big boom!”
He sits quietly, almost disappointed, as a slow moving minivan hugs the speed bump (typically a conscientious women driver).3
The boy feels empowered.
The boy improves his predictive models about the world.
Each of us has a role in caring for the next generation. This is not just the province of parents and teachers.
We might ask: what can be done to increase the odds that children reach their human potential?
Do not tout curiosity. Work with curiosity. Talk to youth about the world. If they ask about death, taxes, war, or politics, resist the temptation to say, “don’t worry about that” or “it’s complicated” or “you’re too young to understand.” Manage your impatience and respond in depth. Give them a foothold and handhold to make sense of the world they inhabit.
One of my theories for why kids are more psychologically fragile today than past generations is how adults communicate with them. Adults assume kids are weak in intelligence and critical thinking.
Be the grandfather raising a 3-year old physicist. There are few activities more fun and important.
- It’s been 14 years since I published my first book on curiosity. Now that curiosity is a hot topic, I created a new talk “Cultivating Curiosity” as part of the PrevailWellnessAcademy virtual summit. Get access to this talk and 25 other speakers. You get access to these well-being talks for a year. Click this link for an insanely low early bird price.
- I do a lot of podcasts, this one for The Art of Coaching is a favorite. We talk about the link between curiosity, creativity, and how to design a more utopian society. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
- Catch the whimsical Beastie Boys documentary by Spike Jonze about their personal evolution. Warning: you will get emotional. Sit with it.
Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is the author of The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively (Avery/Penguin) and a Professor of Psychology who leads The Well-Being Laboratory at George Mason University.
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