What to do When Kids Ask Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

The “Why” stage has hit. My daughter cannot seem to stop herself from repeatedly asking why. Almost every kid I’ve known goes through this at some point and if you’re anything like me, you find this incredibly irritating. “Why,” you ask? And I remember the long ago voices of my parents tightly saying, “Because I said so!”

I used to hate that answer but now I think I understand it a bit better. The repetition that I found so comforting and habit forming as a child, is just really very annoying as an adult.

So here’s the approach I take. I like to consider the underlying need that’s being expressed by the question. I think that when kids repeat the question why, they have a need for information. If you think about it, repeating the question why is actually a pretty easy way to get more information about a given topic. But it’s still super annoying. So what can we do about it?

I try to teach my daughter new strategies to meet that need for information.

I give her various options by modeling different ways to ask for what she wants, for instance:

“Can you please tell me more about that?”

“What else?”

“I want to know more!”

or, “Do you have a story about this?”

By helping my daughter to expand her repertoire of ways to get further information about a given topic, I’m addressing her desire, and helping her to get that need met more often. Adults will happily continue to give her more information as long as they’re not irritated by the way she’s asking.

And, by taking this approach, I also feel far less irritated, simply because I’m aware of the underlying need behind her behavior. When I see this behavior as an attempt to learn more, I have a lot more patience for her repetitive questions.

There’s something else I like to do when kids repeatedly ask “Why?”

I give them far more information than they could possibly want on the topic at hand.

I deluge them with details, use large vocabulary words, and talk about the overall processes at hand. This does two things, first it meets a child’s need for information and second, it assumes they’re smart enough to figure out the level of detail I’m providing. My dad is a pro at this approach. By the time I was three I already knew tons of information about how to lay a foundation and use a plum line.

Both of these will support a child’s further learning and growth and I find this to be a fun game to play, rather than an irritation. How much do I really know about why the sky is blue? And exactly why does the water go down the drain? What happens to our trash after the truck picks it up at the curb? And how does our food get to the grocery store?

If you don’t know the answer to your child’s questions, do some research together! The best way for children to grow a voracious appetite for learning is to witness their parents continuing to learn and grow. I’ve noticed that children love to imitate adults and they especially appreciate it when we show our vulnerability and limitations.

Kids feel more connected to us when they realize that we’re all in the same boat, learning and growing together. So instead of getting frustrated by the way they’re asking, let’s try teaching them some new strategies and helping them to figure out ways to learn and do research on their own.

As a child, whenever I didn’t know the definition of a word or how to spell it, my mom always had the same answer, “Look it up!” I didn’t like her response so much then, I would have rather had her tell me how to spell it, but now I feel empowered by my ability to discover the answers to my questions.

The internet is an incredibly useful tool sometimes! And if you don’t want your kids to have the screen time, offer them some analog reference materials. If they’re older, you might even want to assign them a research project complete with a report and presentation at the end. You may be surprised at how much fun it can be for an older sibling to teach the whole family about his area of interest.

After all, the summer is a wonderful time to continue to do research and experimentation. Who says science projects can only happen at school?

If none of these strategies seem to be working in the moment, I like to turn the questions right back around and ask my child what she thinks. “Why do you think it’s that way?” or “Do you have a theory about why that might be?” or even, “Can you tell me what you know about this topic?” By asking a question in response, I’m inviting my child to think about what she knows and how she can share what she knows.

After all, teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn something.

So there you have it, my simple strategies for how to get rid of the incessant repetition of the question “Why,” and a little bit of inspiration to help your kids continue to learn and discover, even though school’s out.

I hope you’re having a lovely week, Shelly

1 comments
NatalieJ
NatalieJ

Good Suggestions! I remember being exasperated with my kids asking 'why', but no specific examples. I so have an example from my insatiable grandson. Driving back to my house after shopping, he kept asking 'why'. "why are we going this way?" "It's the shortest way to my house." "Why did you turn?" "It's the way to go to my house." "Why are you turning here?" "Because I made a mistake and have to turn around." "Why did you make a mistake?" "Because we all make mistakes sometimes and I just made one." "Why?" At that point I just started laughing.