Why You Should Answer the Question “Why?” for the 80th Time Today

Discovery Place Kids Huntersville

It’s a warm, sunny, Saturday. You - Mom or Dad - are nestled behind the steering wheel of the family car with three car seats occupied in the row behind you. There are handfuls of fruit snacks and sippy cups all around.

Now, let’s cue the music - or should we say, learning. One educational CD after another fills any silence in the car’s cabin. Yet, over the din of the music or flurry of activity or snack wrappers rustling, you hear one voice asking one familiar question of you.

Why?

Why is that car faster than ours? Why is the sun over there now? Why does this thing click, but that thing doesn’t? Why is he making that noise?

To be honest, taking the time to thoughtfully and thoroughly answer your child’s ‘Why?’ question for the 80th time today can be exhausting on several levels. Not only are you out of breath, tired, and ready to move on, but also - you flat out just don’t know the answer. (Life hint: that’s okay.)

However, unless it is a question meant to undermine authority, we can learn to appreciate that the question just might be worth the pause and the “because” answer. (“Why?” you might be asking us right now.)

Because we are raising the next generation of thinkers and dreamers; teachers and parents; artists, politicians, inventors and philosophers.

We are raising the future.

There are times when a child’s repeated q’s can get a bit frustrating. But, in the long run, when you pause to take the time to answer the good questions and to engage in a dialogue with your child about the answers, the lessons will far outweigh the frustrations.

And there is science to this, too. The interaction of this curious dialogue is developing far more than a vocabulary. The American Academy of Pediatrics says: “Positive parenting and nurturing emerging social, emotional, and language skills buffers toxic stress and builds resilience by promoting healthy, adaptive coping skills.” Again, there are great benefits in the long-run.

Here are four lessons your child is learning when you answer their many - many - questions.

Worth. Engaging in a conversation with another person - whether that person is a parent, caretaker, or teacher - your child learns two very important life lessons: you are seen and you are heard. Learning and appreciating those lessons at an early age are gifts that set your child up for long-term success. Because when they are seen and heard, they receive a gift of attention from someone else, that validates who they are. They are learning they are not only independent beings worthy of the thoughts rolling around in their minds but also that they have a voice. Moreover, in the act of looking up from a device or pausing from whatever has your attention, you practice the age-old skill of eye contact. Once taken for granted, this is more and more becoming a skill we need to develop. Physically seeing your child, getting down on their level and looking in their little eyes says “I see you,” so much louder than just your words.

Value. Intrinsic in this exchange is the value one observes for the other. The moment they ask you a question and pause to listen to the answer, they are practicing the art of communication - without even knowing it. If we want to raise compassionate, empathetic children, they must learn how to not only voice their thoughts but also pause to listen and communicate with others. Just as your child will sense their worth from your conversations, so they will use conversations express and display the value of others. It is essential to not just know how to have a conversation, but also why. This cuts to the core of basic human dignity - we listen and respect one another simply because they are people too. No, not everyone will agree with you, but we respect the person, regardless.

Skill. Q&A sessions that start with the infamous ‘Why?” question are opportunities to learn skills that range from the art of conversation to social connection to propriety, better known as the rules or standards of behavior in social situations. As much as we would hope that the observed pattern of conversation is something we each glean indirectly, it is actually a skill we are taught. Participating in the back-and-forth banter of Q&A teaches children the skill of conversation - from the rhythm of communication, like speaking and then listening, to the nuances of knowing when to pause or stop, like when you’re speaking to another adult. These conversations teach the art and reciprocity of dialogue - a skill they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Independence. The ‘Why?’ conversation is one of the more consistent conversations you have with your child. As repetitive as it might be to you, each time you engage in a conversation like this, your child is learning a bit more about how to interact with this world as an independent person. With good questions, they will learn to value their unique thoughts and perspectives; with bad questions, they will learn responsibility for their thoughts and their voice which is an equally valuable lesson worth learning at a young age.

Exploration. You won’t - and shouldn’t - know the answer to every question your child asks. And there’s a lot he or she can learn from that, too. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. Around “Why?” number 50, when your child asks a question you don’t know the answer to, our knee-jerk reaction is probably, “Because I said so!” But not knowing the answer is also a really great opportunity. It can be tremendously instructional to commit to finding out the answer together, “You know, I don’t know why, but we can find out together.” Can you Google the answer together when you get home? Can a weekend field trip to the library or a museum reveal an answer? Can you read the answer together in a book before bedtime? (Side note: Kids love non-fiction. A good collection of colorful reference books is a great addition to your library!) You don’t need to know all the answers; you just need to know where to find them. And who knows what interests (for them and for you) you’ll uncover in the exploration.

We get it; the constant barrage of questions can irritate - they can even annoy. However, if we as parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers change our perspective to the worth of these interactions, we create value in a whole new way.

We want our children to know that the world doesn’t just happen around them, but they are a part of it. And these questions teach that lesson early and often.

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