Why can’t I eat ice cream for dinner? Why is the grass green? Why do you go to work everyday? If your days are peppered with “why” questions from your little one, you’re not alone. Toddlers and preschoolers begin to ask why frequently and fervently, and it’s a normal part of their development.
Why do kids ask “why”?
Toddlers and preschool-age kids have unending curiosity about the world around them. When they see something new, when asked to do something, or when they’ve encountered someone they’ve never met, they are filled with wonder. Who is this person? What is this new thing? What is the purpose of this thing I’m about to do? Because their language skills are outpaced by their curiosity, they will often default to the question “why?” When you tell your child that he needs to take a bath, and he asks “why?”, he’s not challenging you. He simply wants to understand. Why do we sit in a warm bath of soap and water each night? Why is it so important to get clean at the end of the day?
Children at this age want to communicate more with their parents and their teachers. They don’t always know how to start a conversation, but they know that asking why will prompt you to engage in a back-and-forth discussion with them.
How do you answer the trickiest questions?
Some questions have simple answers. We bathe each night so that we can clean the dirt from our bodies. We clean the dirt from our bodies so that we stay healthy and so that other people aren’t bothered by our stinky feet! But other questions may catch you of-guard. If a child asks about sex, gender, or race, we may not always have an answer ready. Questions about death, or even the temporary separation from a loved one, are especially sensitive. Don’t avoid answering these types of questions, however. Giving simple answers is key. You may want to tell your child that you need to think, or discuss the question with your partner, before answering, to make sure that your message reflects your family’s value system.
What do you say when the “why” questions begin to drive you up the wall?
Take a deep breath and remember that these questions are not directed at you in order to make you crazy. They are just the products of a young child’s curiosity and desire to connect. If you truly don’t know an answer, or if the question is almost too simplistic, try to ask your child the same question he is asking you. If he wants to know why he can’t have candy for breakfast, ask him why he thinks he isn’t allowed. He may surprise you with his answers. Sometimes kids know the answer to their question before they ask it, and are asking “why” for affirmation. Allowing your child to work questions out on his own teaches him valuable reasoning skills.
Answering your child’s questions and truly engaging with him as you both work out the answers is a great way to bond, facilitate communication skills, and help your child to learn more about the world.