Dinner time. New veggie. Here we go! I placed a piece of sautéed bok choy on my 4-year-old son’s plate and said, “Hmm. This is a new veggie called bok choy. I wonder what you’ll think about it.” He closely examined this suspicious veggie while sampling some more well-known items on his plate. He circled back after a few minutes and willingly tried it. On his own time. At his own pace. At his own will. After his brave bite, I followed up, “Was it crunchy? Soft?” to which he replied, “Soft. I like it.”

Curiosity opened my son’s brain and body to a new idea and a new possibility. No force. No struggle. No, “Try it, you’ll like it” required. These would’ve been futile attempts to control his dining experience. When our children’s brains and bodies sense controlling energy, they can go into defense and protection mode, such as, “I’m not trying that!” as they tightly close their mouth.

When we invite them to be curious and explore, their brains and bodies feel safe, open, and in the present moment. Curiosity motivates our little ones to explore, learn, and grow. Research has shown greater curiosity is associated with better learning.

When we plant the seed of curiosity, it gives our children space and freedom to discover who they are: their likes, dislikes, and preferences. We can choose to plant seeds of curiosity throughout the day to see what grows.

We’re often short on time and patience so instead of leading with curiosity, we lead with control. We find ourselves coaxing, “Just try it!” So how can we include more curiosity and exploration into our daily parenting lives? Here’s a few actionable “try & spy” experiments you can start today. Try it out and spy how your child responds.

Think of one activity or habit you’d like your child to practice. How would you typically talk to them about this activity? Then use one of these sentence starters to create a question to foster curiosity and exploration:

“I wonder…”
“What if…”
“How can we…”
Here are some examples of how to motivate your child through curiosity — instead of control — that can easily fit into your day.

1 Playing independently while you do laundry.
Control: “Find something to play with. I have to get the laundry.”

Transforms to

Curiosity: “I have to fold the laundry, I wonder what your imagination wants to play with.”

2 Trying a new food.
Control: “Just try it. You’’ll like it.”

Transforms to

Curiosity: “I wonder how it’ll taste for you?”

3 Doing virtual school work.
Control: “Do your homework in the kitchen where I can see you.”

Transforms to

Curiosity: “I wonder what’s the best place in the house for you to do your work?”

4 Struggling to zip up their jacket.
Control: “Here, let me help you.”

Transforms to

Curiosity: “What if we tried a different way? May I show you?”

5 Cleaning up toys before leaving the house.
Control: “We have to go soon, clean up your toys. We can’t leave until they're cleaned up.”

Transforms to

Curiosity: “How can we have fun while cleaning up the toys? Hmmm, any ideas?”