Your toddler and the word ‘why’

It’s impossible to remember, but there was a time when you knew absolutely nothing about the world. Can you imagine seeing a bird for the first time right now? A feathery little creature FLYING through the air? You’d be totally amazed and probably have a million questions. Can all animals do that? Is it safe? Does the bird like it? What about the wind? Can I fly? Why not?

That’s how Baby feels about nearly everything, even things that might seem less exciting than the idea of flying. She is learning every day, and she is super curious about the world around her. Baby is probably going to spend a lot of time asking you why something is the way that it is or why you want her to do something. Why is she asking?

  • She doesn&;t understand something and needs you to help her figure it out.
  • She is making conversation. How polite!
  • She doesn&;t remember the last time you talked about it.
  • She wants to hear the sound of your voice.
  • She thinks it’s a fun word to say.
  • She likes being able to communicate with you.
  • She doesn&;t want to do what you’re asking and is trying to distract you.
  • She wants you to change your mind about something.
  • She is bored.

Explanations will work in some cases, but when Baby asks “Why?”, it’s likely that she isn&;t actually looking for an answer. That’s why you might find yourself trying to answer the same questions over and over again without seeing any results.

Once you’ve already given the “real” answer to a “Why?”, you might be stumped as to where to turn next. How can you answer this seemingly eternal question? One trick that many parents find helpful is to turn the question back around on Baby! Ask Baby what she thinks the answer is.

“Put your shoes on, please.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?”

“Because we’re going?”

“Yep, you got it!”

Even with less practical questions like, “Why is the sun so bright?”, you can ask Baby if she has any theories. Toddlers are really creative, and when Baby‘s goal is to start a conversation with you, this is a great way of extending it beyond, “It’s a really hot star and shines light on us as the earth rotates around it.” 

You can also try answering Baby‘s question with another question to guide her toward the answer. “Why do I have to eat dinner?” What will happen if you don’t? Won’t you be hungry later? If Baby can answer your questions, she can answer her own.

You’re not going to be able to satisfy every “Why?” question from your little one, but you can encourage her to stay curious about her world by doing your best to engage with her questions. Don’t feel bad if you can’t turn every question into a learning opportunity – sometimes the reason for “why” we’re going to bed is just that you’re exhausted, and that’s good enough.

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