Answering why can be a tedious part of parenting. When our kids are little, we often say NO without explaining why because we know they would not understand our reasoning. As they get a little older, they may become upset and ask, “Why can’t I do this–or have that?”
Children ask a lot of questions. I remember when my kids were around three, it seemed that every other word out of their mouths was WHY? We should always listen and answer as many as we can. But sometimes the explanation is still beyond their understanding and so our answer might sound like this: “I would love to tell you why, but even if I did, you probably still wouldn’t understand.” And at that point, it becomes a matter of trusting the parent, knowing that the parent loves them and wants the best for them.
If you are sometimes frustrated with your child’s WHY questions, these suggestions might help you with your responses:
Don’t dismiss or ignore the question. Take the time to listen and respond.
Avoid the phrase “Because I said so.” I used this too many times and mostly it was when I couldn’t think of a better answer when my kids asked WHY. How about instead of “because I said so,” you say, “Let me tell you why,” and then explain in a way that is age-appropriate.
Give the child a chance to answer their own question. Hear their thoughts and opinions about the question they’ve asked. The old answer-a-question-with-a-question tactic can encourage them to think.
Admit when you don’t know the answer. This is hard because, as parents, we want to seem knowledgeable and wise. But it’s okay to admit you don’t know and that you will work on finding the answer. You may even be able to work together with your child to find the solution.
Is there a WHY behind their WHY? Many times, there is a reason your child is asking. Are they simply curious? Do they just want your attention? Are they worried about something? Did something happen to them to make them ask the question? Instead of brushing your kids’ questions off, take the time to give them your attention.
Recognize that WHY questions are a part of your child’s learning and growth. They are noticing, questioning, seeking to learn–even though the questions may seem pointless and even annoying to you.
When a child asks a question, it is an opportunity to teach critical thinking skills by delving deeper and asking follow-up questions to encourage them to understand process, causation and even make observations about their environment. (Self-Sufficient Kids)
No doubt it’s easy to lose patience when kids ask so many questions. But the more your child asks, the more they are learning. According to Harvard-based child psychologist Paul Harris, a child asks around 40,000 questions between the ages of two and five. By the time the child is four, most of the questions asked are explanatory-seeking in nature. (Scary Mommy)
When Your Teen Asks Why
Answering a teen’s WHY questions is not too much different than answering a 3-year-old. Take their question seriously, don’t dismiss it, give thoughtful answers, and even encourage them to answer their own questions.
For example, if they are asking why they can’t do something that you have told them not to do, you can listen to their reasoning and then say something like, “I know you’d like to do that and it sounds like it could be fun, but I have a different perspective. Can I share it with you?” If you’ve taken the time to listen to them, they will hopefully return the favor.
Again, as with 3-year-olds, your objective is to help your teen think through the situation, not just tell them how they should think. My dad was a master at asking questions that forced us to think and I’m grateful to this day for that. I learned to ask a lot of questions of my kids and now in my coaching to help others think. When a teen or an adult has to answer their own questions, the solution they come up with is more likely to stick in their minds.
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