It was 2008. I was cutting 2-year-old M’s nails. (She was 25 months old, if you seek precision.)
M: Mommy cut my nee-uls.
Me: Yes, I’m cutting your nails.
M: Mama cut my toe.
M: (pointing to her knee) Mama cut my knee?
Me: No honey. Your knee doesn’t have nails.
When a child between two and four keeps asking “Why?”, it’s definitely not to annoy you. It’s often not even to understand the causes of things, although they are certainly starting to understand the concept of cause and effect.
Your child asks “Why?” to indicate interest in the topic at hand.
The child’s “Why?” translates to your, “Tell me more.“.
M didn’t need me to explain to her narrowly why her knee was without nails. Instead, she was interested in me talking about the distinct purposes of the different parts of her body. I could show her how similarly her knee and elbow bent, allowing her to move around. I could explain why her nails and hair grew and needed trimming while other parts of her did not. I could point out the similarities and differences between her fingers and toes. I could compare her dimpled toddler hand to my lean vein-ridden grownup hand.
By hearing what my daughter was trying to ask, instead of what she did ask, we were able to embark on a wonderful educational discussion. It all started with the simple word “Why”.
Once I realized what “Why” meant, I didn’t hear it repeated any more. The girls were satisfied with my first answer, because I was responding to their request for more information instead of giving a quick cause-and-effect brush-off.
Has your child reached or gone through the “Why?” phase yet?