10 Things to Say Instead of I Don’t Know

My 15-year-old daughter and I took a weekend trip to California a few weeks ago. We had a wonderful weekend of eating great food, walking on the beach and bonding over chick flicks. When it came time to decide what to do, her answer was almost always, “I don’t know.” I must have heard that phrase 100 times.

Now there is nothing wrong with not knowing an answer to a question. It can show humility and it can indicate a desire to learn. However, it can also be a way to defer decision making or to defer thinking at all.

When I asked, where do you want to eat: “I don’t know.”

What should we do today: “I don’t know.”

What movie should we watch: “I don’t know.”

What did you think about (any topic): “I don’t know.”

The phrase “I don’t know” was driving me crazy.

I have a friend who told me her teen even uses “I don’t know” when asked if he had eaten. ?!@#!?

My daughter and I discussed her fondness for this phrase and that I thought this response was an evasion. By saying “I don’t know” she was telling me that she had no opinion and that she wasn’t going to ponder the question. When asked why she used the phrase so often, her response was a quick, “I don’t know.”  Groan.

The day after we came home, I posted the following in our kitchen.

Instead of saying “I Don’t Know” Choose One of the Following:

  1. Let me think about it.
  2. That’s a good question!
  3. Hmmm . . .
  4. Decisions are great!
  5. Let me find out.
  6. I have that same question.
  7. My best guess is . . .
  8. I choose . . .
  9. I would prefer . . .
  10. I don’t know . . . YET!

I kept thinking about the movie, “The Runaway Bride” when Richard Gere tells Julia Roberts that she doesn’t even know how she likes her eggs.  Watch the clip, it’s great. Julia’s character doesn’t know who she is and what she likes. I told my daughter about this scene and when I hear, “I don’t know” I tell her she needs to know. She needs to find out how she likes those eggs.

So I know today’s list was supposed to be about 10 things better than being in love. But I think we had better find out who we are before we fall in love. So if you have a teenager who loves “I don’t know” as much as my children do, show them the list. Maybe it will work for you, too.

Linking up with Kristi and Ellen.


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19 thoughts on “10 Things to Say Instead of I Don’t Know

  1. I loved this more than you know, because even though my girls are not teens yet, I get, “I don’t know” often enough. And I am going to have to remember your listed suggestions now for them in the alternative. Thanks 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! If you have any great ideas for the shoulder shrug . . . let me know. 🙂

  2. Great list. We are going to have to come up with replacements for, “Fine” and “It was alright.” My son is and that is his response to every sentence beginning with How is and How was. This would be a great future Listicle.

    1. Right! I am trying to come up with new questions instead of “How was your day?” I’ve learned tell me 2 great/silly/sad/unusual things that happened today gets a better response.

  3. This is a great list! We have a similar situation with “nothing.” As in “what did you do today ?…nothing.” I’ve learned to ask specific questions that require a more detailed answer, and it usually works, even if I get an eye roll with it.

  4. My son is eight and I already hear “I don’t know” about so much. “What’d you do in school today?” “I don’t know.” UGH. Great list of better responses. So glad you linked up!

  5. I was saying to someone in a comment that one of the cool thing about what they (and others with writerly skills) is to be able to take a simple format, i.e. lists or photos or drawings and create a story. A ‘story’ in the sense of a ‘tale’, a tale in the way that when we open parts of our worlds, lives and realities to others, they can almost always find something to relate to (in their own worlds, lives and realities).
    Good post.

  6. What a great post! This list needs to be shared along with Dana’s suggestion of asking questions in such a way that it requires a more detailed answer. How neat that you and your daughter had some mother/daughter time together on your trip, even if you may have had to try to guess what she wanted to do. Perhaps just being with you, doing whatever you wanted to do, was her happy place.

    1. Our trip was pretty fun. And after I gave two options for each question, she was usually able to select a favorite. I’m learning, too!

    1. Me too! I had a mentor teach me that “I don’t know” can actually stop us from thinking further about the question. I have tried hard not to say it since then. I need my brain to keep processing and finding solutions.

  7. What a great idea to hang it to remind everyone. I admit I probably say I don’t know too often or at least defer to the other person. I’m super indecisive. I think I’ll have to tuck this away to remind myself!


    1. My daughter caught me saying “I don’t know” yesterday. 🙂 I had to come up with another answer really quick but luckily the list is still on my cabinet!

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