One of the most annoying habits to adults that an older toddler and preschooler may have is that of asking “Why?” to almost everything. While this is a very developmentally appropriate habit, and one that all children must pass through in order to develop appropriately, sometimes being the adult on the receiving end of these endless questions is enough to drive us mad. We want to say, “Because I said so” or “Because that’s just the way it is.” However, these statements stem from our frustration with the lack of knowledge that the child has on the subject, which of course is precisely why the child is asking the question in the first place! When you find yourself wanting to fall into the trap of angrily responding to these questions by encouraging the child to stop asking them, just remember these simple things:
1. Your Child is Practicing Skills You Already Have
Your child is wondering why the grass is green because he has started to notice a pattern that the grass is green, the sky blue, and many other things are many different colors. This is exactly what needs to happen for his development. His ability to discriminate between colors, shapes, numbers, and other classifying terms shows that his brain has developed enough to start classifying items into different categories. The fact that he wants to know why things are the colors that they are means that he is starting to focus on the reasons for why things are the way they are.
Adults do this every day in more advanced form. We might think about why driving to work using one route saves 5 minutes compared to another, and then choose to take the route that saves us time. If adults squash a child’s curiosity about why things are the way they are, we squash the child’s future ability to question the world around him in a scientific way. So, if you have the answer to your child’s question, answer it. And if you don’t have the answer, then consider taking time together to figure out the real answer so that both of you can learn something new.
2. Your Child is Learning How to Form Her Own Opinion
Your child asks why after you answer her previous question of why because she doesn’t think that she received enough information. Does this sound familiar? Your child asks why she has to come inside and your response is “because it’s raining.” Your child then responds with asking why again, while you feel like you have already answered that question. Then comes your frustrated response, which sounds something like, “Because I said so” or “I already told you that answer.”
No matter how frustrating these questions are to adults, we must remember to keep cool and try to answer the questions the best that we can. If we snap at a curious child and encourage her not to ask questions, then we encourage a child to never question something that she thinks is wrong, morally or otherwise. Obviously, we don’t want this for a growing child because we want to promote a child’s ability to question when something doesn’t seem right and to fight for what the child thinks is right. When we refuse to answer questions for a child, we squash the child’s curiosity and desire to explore for answers. In short, we stomp on the child’s inner scientist, and teach the lesson that asking questions and seeking answers is not the right thing to do in life.
So next time your child asks you some questions, follow these simple rules:
1. Provide the best answer you have to the child’s current question
2. If you start to feel stressed by repeated questions, ask yourself what detail the child might be trying to clarify. Then, answer the question, making sure to include that detail.
3. Repeat, as many times as necessary.
4. If you believe that your child is asking why simply because she isn’t listening to the answers that you give her, try saying something like this: “I just answered that question. Do you remember what my answer was?” If your child cannot tell you what the answer is, then encourage her to put on her listening ears and listen really hard, because you are only going to say this one more time. Then, answer her question and follow that by asking her to repeat what you said. 5. If you want to stop the questions, but not squash your child’s curiosity, ask your child a question. Ask your child why he thinks that the grass is green or the sky is blue. Have a conversation about both of your thoughts on the answer to the question, instead of acting like the ultimate authority on the issue that your child has raised.
And of course, sometimes the battle over the Why? can turn into more than questions. For more information on minimizing battles with your child, click here.