Psychologist and mother Eleanor Mackey shares tips on how to answer "why" questions.
Parents of young children recognize this word as one of the most common in their household. It is a good thing when children are curious about the world and want to understand why things are the way they are. However, it can be very exhausting for parents to field the hundreds of “why” questions they get in a day.
This development typically starts around ages 2 or 3 and continues on into ages 4 and 5. Asking “why” is a sign of curiosity and wanting to understand the world around them, which can seem big and daunting for a toddler. Understanding can help increase security and confidence, so the “why” questions are important. This is very common in our house right now with L, who is going on 4. All day it is “why did he do that?” “Why is she sad?” “Why can’t I do X?” This can go on for a long time.
Sometimes the questions are easy to answer, but my husband and I have often found ourselves stumped. We want to be responsive and encourage our daughter’s inquisitive spirit and we also want her to feel like we will take her questions seriously and do our best to answer. Right now the questions are minor, but soon they will be very important, so we want to get this right to make her feel heard and respected.
My husband came up with a great response that he has taught L and has truly improved our communication. For “why” questions that are difficult to answer or don’t merit a “why” question, my husband has taught L to say, “Tell me more about that.”
This works well for many reasons. First of all, a parent only has to provide a more detailed explanation or description of something rather than answer a “why” question. Most importantly, we’ve found that this question works beautifully in reverse. L is not great about telling us about her day or about events or experiences, so when we ask, “How was school?” and she says “Fine,” we can now prompt with “Tell me more about that,” and we get a much better answer!
I bring this up for other parents to try because I love that one simple phrase can really improve communication both ways, encourage us to continue a dialogue with our daughter, foster her curiosity, and set the stage for even more important discussions yet to come as she grows up. Try it with your child and see how it goes!
Do you have any tips for answering the never-ending “why” questions?