Why your child should embrace the “unknown unknowns”

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We are what we do – our habits inform our actions. We are also what we don’t do. We only have the tools in our hand, and we only know what we’ve learned. We know that there are things we still need to learn, skills we have yet to master and – more importantly – we need to be aware that there are things we do not know of, that we might need to know.

As former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld puts it, we need to be cognisant of the “unknown unknowns”.

Over the past months, we’ve looked at the various Habits of Mind, and how cultivating them can help your child prepare for the challenges of the future.

This is what the last Habit of Mind is concerned with: being aware of what we don’t know, and how we can figure out the unknowable. We do so by remaining open, embracing new experiences and ideas and being humble enough to admit when we don’t fully understand things. We are constantly vigilant for gaps in our knowledge and welcome new information as and when it appears.

It’s easy to understand in theory, but it’s another thing putting it into practice. It isn’t always easy for people to change mindsets or to accept new ideas – just look at how difficult it has been to convince people about the hard realities of climate change. How then, can we help our children avoid becoming set in their ways? How can we ensure that they continue to approach the world with humility and openness?

Show them it’s ok to not know
As a parent, show them that you don’t always have the answers, and that’s alright. Instead of distracting them or making up an answer when they ask a tough question, go ahead and admit that you don’t know. As a bonus, you can work with them to find out the answer. “No, I don’t know why the sky is blue. But hey, let’s google it together and find out.”

Don’t punish them for getting it wrong
Children are more willing to be open minded, and are more willing to learn from their own errors, if they aren’t punished for mistakes, omissions or miscalculations. Be compassionate with both yourself and your children when mistakes happen. Recognise that your child likely put effort into answering – reward and acknowledge that, even if he got the answer wrong or the outcome wasn’t what was intended. “No, that’s not the right way to fry an egg/water the plants/clean the toilet. But it was really commendable of you to try. Here, let me show you how it’s done.”

So, there we have it, 16 Habits of Mind that will hopefully equip your child with the skills they need to flourish in the 21st century. From learning to be persistent to taking responsible risks, as your child continues to strive for both creativity and accuracy, we wish your child every success in 2018 and the years that follow.


This is the last of a 16-part series about Habits of Mind.

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