Madelyn asked me a million questions about why I didn’t like my trip to Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream, what went on and how I reacted. I patiently answered each one and explained to her over and over why it scared me to death. Then she started to ask my husband some of the exact same questions… So what was going on here? Why do children ask “Why”?
Recently I was in a training on “Nurturing Parenting”, and learned that children are hardwired to ask “Why”. It turns out that it is an important part of their brain development and is a safety mechanism that they use to learn. When children are young, asking a “Why” question helps them to begin to understand the concept of cause and effect and to develop that functionality of their brain.
A child also uses “Why” questions as a way to keep you engaged with them. When they are young, this in itself is a safety technique that children use. It is their mistaken belief that if you are giving them attention then they “belong” and thus they feel safer.
Children may also use the “Why” question as a way of voicing their concerns, without coming right out and saying it (as in Madelyn’s case). I suspect that she was scared of some of the posters that she saw at the theme park, had heard about some of the scarier things that I had encountered and was having some scary images go through her mind. It was making her fearful inside, and she wanted reassurances and safety that those images weren’t going to “get her”, so she asks A LOT of questions.
As the child gets older, the use of a “Why” question may be a test against the limits that you have set and an attempt to derail you from maintaining your consistency. i.e. “Why can’t I have a sleepover” (repeat, repeat, repeat). One of the ways to redirect the child is to ask them, “Why do you think”? This diverts the conversation out of a power struggle and puts the thinking back on the child. When they are asked a “Why” question, they are forced to think about why the rules exist, explore their own ideas, and come up with an answer. (Of course they can say, “I don’t know”, (99% of the time they do know), but this is still an opportunity to end the power struggle by saying, “Ok“, shrugging and walking away rather than re stating the rules that they are already aware of and re-engaging. )
Children can use “Why” questions for many different purposes. They can use them to learn about the world around them, to voice their fears, and to gain the upper hand. So even if you don’t want to answer yet another question, it is important to recognize why your child is asking “why” so that you can respond appropriately.