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Why Nosy Kids Drive Us Nuts!

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Ladies and gentleman about to become parents: If I could offer up only one tip, buy window cleaner. Now.

kid spying

Jeanne Sager: Because too soon your windows will look like mine -- with two nose prints, side by side. The sloppier one is the dog's. The small, cute, but in the winter, relatively snotty one belongs to my 4-year-old.

Meet my daughter, the reigning president of the neighborhood watch society. Her canine companion serves as vice president, dress-up partner, and general alarm sounder (errant squirrels are treated to a baying straight out of The Hound of the Baskervilles, mixed with a high-pitched "No, naughty, my bird feeder, don't touch!").

The parenting books will tell you curiosity is a vital part of development. The cliché books will tell you it killed the cat. And the minute-by-minute updates on the neighbors are driving me nuts.

"Nickel's on his play set, Mommy! Nickel's picking his nose. Oh, wait, no, not a pick -- just a scratch."

Like the caller ID flashing on the TV screen, having a child has afforded us the chance to sit in the general comfort of the couch and be notified of a decision we have to make. Do we get up at the sound of the car door slamming in the driveway? Not if Captain Obvious can tell us which neighbor has pulled in and where.

As a reporter, I've long joked that I "do" nosy for a living. Apparently it's genetic. The question: can we write off that fire/police scanner for Christmas as a business expense?

There's an interest level in the goings-on of the outside world that doesn't correlate to what the outside world tells us about toddlers. According to the commercials, they're relatively narcissistic beings who care most about their crayons, their stuffed animals, and their books, followed closely by the whereabouts of their mom and their dad.

They're half right. But she also wants to know the name of the UPS man delivering the new box of books. She ponders why he wears a brown uniform and drives a brown truck. And while I'm putting him through the 20 questions routine, could I please ascertain where he's going next and if he knows the way to Sesame Street?

His answers are a test. Because if he does know the way to Sesame Street, perhaps he'd be willing to give her a ride there? And who knows what she'll see on the way?

The ubiquitous "why" may be designed to drive parents nuts. But consider another old cliché: You learn something new every day. They're still on the early side of life, where every day presents not just one new thing to learn, but everything.

Why do those sticks turn around on the clock? Why won't my oatmeal stay hot? Why is the dog licking the window? Why? Why? Why?

Because it makes them smarter. Literally. Canadian scientists have found a molecular link between intelligence and curiosity, whereby the motivation to explore and ask "why" actually increases brain function. And as batty as it makes their parents, studies have likewise found curious kids have a better shot at developing good personal relationships.

It would seem instinctual, then, for kids to develop their brain power via an incessant barrage of questions. So we're back at the parenting books -- which I threw out about two months into parenting.

So why the trouble with why?

According to child and family psychologist Dr. Katie McCorkle, "We dislike their curiosity when we don't want to be transparent or feel ashamed about what they want to know. Their radar for lies is highly acute. One way of thinking about the value of children's curiosity is that it keeps the adults around them honest, thinking, and growing!"

I'll give her that -- sometimes I just don't know the answer to her question. I don't know the substitute driver's name, or the reason the pavement is cracked in the shape of a V. No matter the number of times she asks, I still won't have the answer. And that's a hard thing to swallow. As their authority on everything, and even more as the disciplinarian who is trying to retain a hold on that authority, admitting your flaws to your children is a double-edged sword. They learn that we all have a lot to learn. They learn to hone their curiosity by asking the right people the right questions. They learn that questions are the path to enlightenment.

But they also learn that Mom and Dad may be smarter than the dog -- but they're not the sharpest tools in the shed. Not even close.

So who's the little narcissist now?

Guilty.

So I'll make do with my preschooler peeking out the curtains and running a play-by-play on our neighbors' family game of volleyball in the backyard. Just don't ask me the point of the game.





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