Why kids ask "Why?" Hint - it's not to annoy you!

Toddler Thursday: Why Kids Ask “Why?”

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Categories Development, Education, Language, Talking to Kids, Toddler Thursday, ToddlersTags

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.
Me: Yep.
M: (pointing to her knee) Mama cut my knee?
Me: No honey. Your knee doesn’t have nails.
M: Why?

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?

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

47 thoughts on “Toddler Thursday: Why Kids Ask “Why?””

  1. This is so interesting for me to read your perspective. (When I saw the first line about you cutting the girls’ nails, though, my mind jumped over to a Facebook exchange [I think] about how those nails jump around all over the place, one having landed in your eye…with your glasses on!) 😉

    I don’t feel like I was ever riddled with the why-why-why-why-why that you so often read about. I didn’t make a conscious effort to work around it, exactly, but maybe it’s because I allowed those why’s to develop into conversations. I love it!
    MandyE recently posted So Thankful to Have Been ThereMy Profile

    1. I think you’re the exception that proves the rule! Those of us who engage our children in conversation on topics they show an interest in get to bypass the why-why-why phase altogether!

    2. Oh, yes, it was on Facebook that I shared that whole disgusting nail-in-eye saga. I remember how appalled by ophthalmologic surgeon friend was. Of course, he has a baby now, so maybe I should take his temperature on this now!

    1. Yes! “What’s that?” is absolutely another version of the same phenomenon! Or even, “That?” as a friend’s son used to ask!

  2. A very good reminder! Our tot isn’t talking yet, thank heavens (joking…kind of) but I get a lot of whys at school. Sometimes we have great chats, sometimes it’s repeated over and over with a cheeky smile. Sometimes I can’t answer their questions. Patience is definitely key though.

    Mama, My Kid Doesn’t Poop Rainbows recently posted Photographing a BabyMy Profile

  3. We’re into the questions stage with Miss M and I love it so far – she’s so inquisitive! She asks about everything and as well as being generally interested in everything, it’s really improving her speech and vocabulary too :) Mim x #twinklytuesday
    Mim recently posted 4 Week Post Partum UpdateMy Profile

  4. I like this post. You simply describe what is really going on.

    I loved the ‘why’s’. Not always but in general I loved that stage of discovery and interest in everything. The world is opening up to them and they want to know as much as possible. Like you said it is an opportunity to have a great conversation with them and I found when my boys had all the information they wanted they would just end the chat by mentioning something else.
    Kirsten Toyne recently posted Fantasies of MotherhoodMy Profile

  5. I feel a bit lucky neither of my two have gone through the “why” stage yet, I know I’ll get really annoyed with the constant asking but I hope to never to tell them to stop asking questions, because there will forever be questions to ask and I don’t want them scared to ever ask why to something or to question something =]
    Adelaide Goffin recently posted Fathers Day Gift Guide 2015My Profile

  6. Great post! Definitely agree with you about ‘Why?’ Really admire the time you take to explain and further her understanding. She will have such a great start in life! #TwinklyTuesday

  7. Great Blog Post. My little one went through the “why stage” a few months back (she recently turned 3). Similar to your experience, she was also satisfied with just asking once if we took the time to explain everything to her. I really love this stage and her developed sense of curiosity. #TwinklyTuesday

  8. Oh I love the why phase! It’s cute the first few times but wears thin after that!
    I do love explaining things to them though and I love their thirst for knowledge
    Sam recently posted Alton TowersMy Profile

  9. My kiddos haven’t really asked “Why” a whole ton, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an incessant and endless drive to know what the heck is going on. Mine usually want to “show me” everything! “Mom, Bug!” “Mom watch!” “Mom I help?” “Mom look a me” and on and on. Some days it’s endearing and other days…not so much. So it goes 😀

  10. This is so interesting. My little boy is at the ‘no” stage but I’m sure the ‘whys’ are just around the corner. Thanks to you I will now know what he actually means xx #TwinklyTuesday

  11. My son is 27 months months now and I think he is on the verge of the ‘why’ stage. I am going to follow your lead and take time to explain things to him.
    Becky xx

  12. All three of mine have hit the “why” stage. Some days I can only answer so many “why’s” before I start feeling like a crazy “who”. I can’t wait until all of them can read and search google like I do to get an answer to my questions. 😀 Thanks for hosting the wonderful #TwinklyTuesdays.
    Trista, Domesticated Momster recently posted Favorite Quote #4My Profile

  13. We are just starting this phase. My son 80% wants to know the answer to why, the other 20% he actually knows the answer and whats you to say the specific thing he is thinking! Sometimes I say ‘why do you think?’ back and he will just tell me the right reason (rather than me tell him 50 times). My mum used to do the same thing to me when I was little and I often wondered why she just wouldn’t answer the question, but actually it made me think and reason it out for myself.
    doctomum recently posted What to Watch on TV – Parent StyleMy Profile

  14. I’m a huge fan of the whys. My eldest has been asking them and even now his teacher says he asks her questions way more than the other kids. I read that when they start asking why is when their left brain is forming and developing logic and reason. I love that it encourages curiosity.
    Nina recently posted Free Father’s Day PrintablesMy Profile

  15. Love this! Monkey has been asking why for quite some time now and I always try to answer or expand the conversation – reason being is one dad once said to me, oh my daughter went through that and I nipped it in the bud very quickly – it made me feel sad so no matter how annoying it’s got I actually encourage it sometimes :) asking why back! That’s for hosting #TwinklyTuesdays
    Mudpie Fridays recently posted Easy DIY Fathers Day GiftMy Profile

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