Why does my toddler keep asking "why?"

11 Mar

I always knew this day would come. The day when my toddler’s favourite word would be one of the hardest questions in the world to answer – ‘why?’ And not said just once. No sirree. It’s like a game of ping-pong. I say one thing – she says ‘why’. I give an answer – she says ‘why’. Backward and forth we bat the ball, until I give in, concede the point and say ‘that’s just the way it is’. I hate saying it. But sometimes there is just no other answer.
For example, I say ‘Darling, put your shoes on’. She replies, ‘Why?’. ‘Because we’re going out sweetheart, and your feet might get hurt if you don’t wear shoes. ‘Why?’. ‘Because there are sticks and rocks on the ground that might cause your foot to bleed’. ‘Why?’. ‘Because they’re sharp’. ‘Why?’. ‘Because…. because… that’s just the way it is.’ ‘Why?’. Cue the silence from me as I have nothing left to say. And it’s not just that she says ‘why’ – a lot – it’s more like ‘whyyyyy’, like it’s a two syllable word. It’s not annoying. It’s only really just begun. Come back to me in six months and I might have a different view. But – it’s very interesting to think about why she says ‘why’. Mostly, I think it’s just to make conversation. My daughter is far from perfect but if there’s one thing she’s really good at – it’s talking. The other day we were playing pretend ‘shops’. I asked what she was going to buy. She said ‘coriander’. She’s 2 and has never actually eaten coriander. My little girl could go in the talking olympics. I think she gets it from her grandmothers – both expert talkers. The really interesting thing about her questioning – ‘why’ – is that she’s really not that interested in the answer. She just wants to make conversation – and loves the sound of her own voice. Often she doesn’t even understand my replies (as simple as they are) which is the reason that my answers lead to more – ‘whys’. So – I have my theory as to why she says ‘why’. Now, the big question is – how do I handle the constant questioning, particularly when I don’t know the answer – and I don’t want to say ‘because that’s just the way it is’? As always, google has the answer. I found the website for an American pediatrician, Dr Alan Greene, who seems to make a bit of sense. He says  ‘I’ve found that, when I try to answer children at this stage of development with the reason for something, they are left cold. After conversing with thousands of children, I’ve decided that what they really mean is, “That’s interesting to me. Let’s talk about that together. Tell me more, please?” When I’ve connected with children and begun to spin a tale to answer this question, they’ve sat enthralled. There was no need to mention because, or therefore, or cause, or effect. They don’t need to know why, all they need is animated attention and me saying whatever came to mind about that subject. After a brief interchange, we were both happy. Let me give you an example.
I remember when one of my own sons asked me why the sky was blue. I told him that on sunny days the sky was blue and that on cloudy days it was gray and that at night it was very, very dark. Sometimes in-between day and night, it’s a pretty pink or orange. And there are cool things in the sky. The sun gives us heat and light. It’s like the stars, only closer. There are planets that go around the sun, and we live on one of them, called Earth. Notice that I didn’t at all answer why the sky is blue, but I did connect with him and answer his real question. He was delighted with our interchange and I got an enthusiastic “cool,” not another automatic “why?” We both won.

OK, so the trick is to talk a lot but not necessarily answer the question. I think I’ve seen that strategy in action before somewhere. Hmmm… that’s right. Our politicians do it all the time and it seems to work for them. So, from here on in, I’m going to fight fire with fire. If it’s conversation my daughter wants, it’s conversation we shall have. Let the talks commence!

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One Response to “Why does my toddler keep asking "why?"”

  1. Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    surely you could go one step further and force her to sit and watch parliament question time every time she says why….that way you would possibly bore the "why's" out of her. While giving the pollies the type of demographic they crave…generation WHY…

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