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How To Deal With A Child Saying “I Don’t Know”

Team StoryWeavers|June 21, 2022, 17:55 IST| 4

Child says I don't know

“I don’t know.”

When every question you ask your child is met with a nonchalant answer such as “I don’t know,” you know that something is wrong. It can even be infuriating at times, especially when you know that it is code for something that you cannot decipher yet. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know when situations like this arise. 

Three Times Children Are Likely To Say “I Don’t Know”

Children often resort to saying “I don’t know” when they are unable to express their feelings or do not know what they are feeling. Here are three times children are likely to say that they do not know. 

  • Times when children are too distracted or are daydreaming to engage with the current task
  • Times when children are either afraid or embarrassed to tell what is on their mind
  • Times when children do not know what they think and could use more help figuring it out

Different Ways To Respond When A Child Says “I Don’t Know”

The process of ‘Question-answer’ is a part of every parent-child relationship. Hearing “I don’t know” repeatedly can be difficult. Here are a few ways to respond when your child does not know how to answer the question you just asked. 

Ask Yes/No Questions

Younger children are more likely to respond to close-ended questions that require yes and no answers rather than open-ended questions. This line of questioning is likely to work when you are trying to figure out what is on their mind. 

For example:

  • The question you want to ask: What is on your mind? What are you thinking about?
  • Answer given by child: I don’t know. 
  • Instead Ask: Are you thinking about your friend? (Answer: Yes/No)
Ask Either/Or Questions

Younger children are more likely to express their opinions when they are given options to choose from. It increases the chances of them engaging with the questions. 

For example:

  • The question you want to ask: What do you want for dinner?
  • Answer given by child: I don’t know. 
  • Instead Ask: Would you rather have carrot or broccoli for dinner? (Answer: Carrot or Broccoli)
Ask Children To Use Their Imagination

If the child is embarrassed or afraid to answer the question, you could ask them to use their imagination to answer questions. You can ask them to answer hypothetically. It will give you more information than the standard “I don’t know.”

For example:

  • The question you want to ask: What do you want to do about it?
  • Answer given by child: I don’t know. 
  • Instead Ask: If you knew, what would you say? 

How To Help Children Work Through “I Don’t Know”

We have now covered the probable reasons behind “I don’t know” and different questions you could ask to understand what is going on in the child’s mind. However, it is important to also help children work through “I don’t know” so that they can be critical thinkers and consequently, better learners. 

Here are some questions children could ask instead of “I don’t know” as per the book 7 Steps to a Language-rich, Interactive Foreign Language Classroom by Seilitz Education, LLC.

  • May I have more information?
  • May I have more time to think about this?
  • May I ask a friend for help?

Download the printable poster below for your child’s room to ensure that they remember this. Ask your child to colour the poster by using their favourite colours to add a personal touch. 

These are some ways to help your child navigate the “I don’t know” situation and become a more confident communicator in the process. 

What are some of the techniques you use to deal with your child saying that they don’t know? Let us know in the comments below. 

Download a fun colourable and printable “Instead of I don’t know” poster here.

About the Author

“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!

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Tamasi Konar chatterjee

December 16, 2020

Very useful information. Thanks Byju’s for sharing this with us


December 13, 2020

I love BYJU’S

Kumar Bhola

December 12, 2020



December 11, 2020

Superb story


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