When Children Ask Why

When Children Ask “Why?” Constantly

I am working with a family who have a preschooler who has been late to start talking but is now using more words. One of the most frequent words she comes out with now is “Why?” In fact, fairly repetitively. How many times can you answer “Why?” without going slightly crazy?

This is a common ‘problem’ because it is a typical part of development. Among other things children learn language, critical thinking, and problem-solving through asking questions, so I say it’s a good thing! Children are inherently curious about world around them, and asking questions of people willing to answer helps them discover their world.

However, I thought I’d offer some help if you have a preschooler with whyitis… (that’s my own made-up word) as I know it is draining to answer questions incessantly, particularly the same questions!

Why Children Ask “Why?”

Usually it fulfills a communicative purpose – your child wants to engage with you and keep you talking! This is a good thing! They may be repeating “Why?” because they do not have the verbal skills to ask a different question or phrase it more specifically. Possibly you haven’t answered their ‘real’ question yet. They may actually be telling you that they are interested in what is happening and want to know more.

How to Answer Their “Why?”

Hmm, so how can I answer “Why?” – especially if it’s not even the real question?

  • Answer in a complete sentence (though shortened to 1-2 words more than your child uses in a sentences is usually about right). Your child might be listening for how to organize words in a sentence.
  • Guess at what else the “Why?” could be asking. Your child might be wanting more information or detail. For example, when I put my shoes on at the door as I left a home visit, I said “I’ll put my shoes on” and Miss 3 asked (take a guess?!): “Why?”. She might be actually meaning: ‘Why did you take them off in the first place?’, ‘Why are you leaving?’, ‘Why aren’t you coming to swimming with us?’ ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What’s happening next for us?’
  • Make a thinking noise and facial expression, “Mmmm”. With a pause, this may be enough time to allow your child to add detail to their question, start to answer it themselves, or at the very least, give you some time to think of what you will answer!
  • Children ask hundreds of questions per day (studies show 4 year old girls tend to ask the most at around 300 per day). If the question is repeated after you have answered, go for a different angle on the same topic to talk about – the child may not know how to tell you that they want a different answer other than to repeat the same one.
  • Add on a comment or two. For example “Why?” – “We need to keep the lid on so that the flies don’t come. [Add comment] I don’t like flies. Shoo fly don’t bother me [sing it if you want to!]” Taking up the conversation time with talking might give you a little bit of respite from hearing “Why?” and actually fill your child’s desired purpose for asking in the first place – connection and interest in what is happening in their world.
  • Ask a different question. You have answered their question, maybe ask a simple one too ‘What shall we do now?’, ‘I think it’s time to go to swimming – what do we need?’, ‘would you like to help me with [insert job here]’, ‘Where is [dog’s name, special toy]?’
  • Follow your answer up with another ‘Why’ question…(then answer that question if your child isn’t at the stage of answering it). For example “Why” – “because we need to go now… Why do we need to go now? {pause} We need to go now so we aren’t late for swimming”. ‘Why do YOU think [what they have asked about]’. Be prepared that you still might get a ‘Why’ after you’ve asked, but at least you’ve given a great example of a different question format!

Pat yourself on the back that your child thinks you are an expert on life, or at least a favourite person they want to connect with – otherwise why would they ask you?!! Keep up the good work of teaching them new words. Your Speech-Language Therapist will be proud of you 🙂

For types of questions that children ask, and that you can ask, have a look at https://parentresourcesblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/questions-development.pdf