David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

How Do You Know?

 Whoever said, “life is hard and then you die” was a starry-eyed optimist in that those of us who have done the parenting thing for a bit would argue that the author left out a number of “are we there yets?” and a great many “how do you knows?” along the way.

I was especially enamored with the “how do you know?” stage which, like the terrible twos, lasted not one year as advertised but from 18-months well into elementary school. The “Why threes” had nothing on the “How do you knows?” The Hundred Years War–which actually lasted 137 years–was the blink of an eye compared to the “How do you knows?” Examples include:

Me: It’s time for bed.

My Four-Year-Old: How do you know?

Me: It’s cold outside.

My Four-Year-Old: How do you know?

Me: I need to put your shoes on.

My Four-Year-Old: How do you know?”

Like swallowing, blinking, or not putting toys away, the “How do you knows” seemed automatic and ubiquitous.

Me: We have to leave for school now.

My Four-Year-Old: How do you know?

How do I know? Funny thing about that. As it happens, I have a graduate degree, in developmental psychology of all things and I have made a particular study of traffic configurations as well as weather patterns and their influence on the respiratory function of four-year-olds and as I have mentioned, it is bitterly cold outside so put on this jacket before I chew my own arm off and get in the car because if we are late again and I have to get “the look” from that condescending employee in the attendance office at the pre-school one more time my head may very likely explode. THAT’S how I @#$%^&*! know!

To which, inevitably it now seems, my child would reply, “How do you know?”

If I remember correctly, I did learn a lot in graduate school. Developmental psychology has been called, “home economics with numbers.” I learned how to design experiments to measure the social-emotional and cognitive development of children. I learned that 36 consecutive hours of studying for a statistics mid-term is not nearly enough. I learned that in a classroom of 20 people I could consistently be the least able and the poorest prepared. But I did not learn how to respond calmly and effectively to a four-year-old who has enquired, with all earnestness, “How do you know?” for the tenth time in ten minutes.

As always, the feeling behind the question is what matters most. “How do you know?” actually might actually mean, “The world is uncertain, I’m feeling a little out of control, I would be grateful for some reassurance that everything is going to be okay.” “How do you know?” also frequently means, “I’m doing just fine here snuggled up ensconced with my familiar stuffed animals, why would I want to go anywhere never mind to pre-school where I will have to interact with other people of all sizes?”

The trick for parents is to perceive the feeling and respond to the underlying communication. Which is not to say we can always accede to the requests of little ones—children cannot stay in their pajamas until they are graduated from college—only that children should know that their needs are understood, if not met. There is a difference between, “get in the damn car because our family has grown accustomed to living indoors and if I’m late for work and get fired it’ll be all your fault if your mother leaves me” and “yeah, I hear you.” The former statement is too much of a burden whereas the later paves the way for subsequent interaction ten years later in which you may indeed be interested: “my friends are recommending I try recreational Xanax, can we talk about it?” for example.

A response of “I hear you” to the other worldly requests of four-year-olds is more likely to lead to the kind of open, honest communication you desperately want from a teen. Because little ones grow up in the blink of an eye.

Ask me how I know.

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One thought on “How Do You Know?

  1. Martin

    Good one! Excellent lead in to the final line.
    As for the question, I hear the voice of your first born.
    A pseudo-reasonable question/statement applicable for all circumstances, simultaneous deflecting and accommodating, inviting further engagement and way more articulate than a tantrum or a simple “Why?”

    It is not about epistemology, but comes from uncertainty, which has many roots. Your years of study and observation have paid dividends.

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