How to answer the flood of “why?” questions – Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist

I have a new ‘thing’. It’s called “the rules of the world”. It’s a bit of a throwback to my mum’s “because I said so” in response to my endless childhood questioning “why? why?”. I suppose Karma has a way of finding us and boy has Karma found me. I have a three and a half year old who is determined to get to the bottom of EVERYTHING! SHE DOES NOT MISS A THING! And in desperation on the weekend when my answers for why we can’t go in the pool at 7.20 am or why we can’t eat icy poles at 7.30 am (“it’s too early” didn’t suffice FYI), I devised “the rules of the world”. “It’s just the rules of the world sweetheart” I responded to question upon question. And it worked! For about half a day. Until she started questioning the “rules of the world” and then we were back at square one.

But it got me thinking about childhood cognitive development and the inevitable “why” questioning that pops up around 2 or 3 years of age. Granted, it has been going on for a year or so at my place so I’m either getting sick of it or the questions are getting harder! As kiddos’ brains develop, they start to make meaningful connections between things. They start to develop a ’cause-and-effect’ style of thinking that leads them to want to know “why” things happen or “why” we do things – it’s their inquisitive nature and interest in the world around them emerging. But don’t be too quick to assume that a 2 or 3 year old’s definition of “why?” means the same as ours. Sometimes it can be more of a “tell me more about this interesting topic”.

So how to answer “why?” questions? Each child is different, but I am now finding with my own kiddo that replacing “the rules of the world” with some expanded information about the topic is helping. This morning, to answer “why does daddy go to work?” I explained that he goes to work because it’s fun and he gets to talk to lots of people and that makes him happy. I explained that he also earns money at work which means we can buy a train ticket on the weekend to go to the city.  Through my work I am mindful of not giving long-winded explanations and trying to keep things simple so I find that offering a small chunk of information, like my explanation above, gives a child time to process and understand what I’ve said.

No magic cures here for the seemingly endless stream of “why” questions, but rest assured it is a positive sign of on-track language and cognitive development.

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development.

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