In the Line of Fire: How to Handle All Those Why Questions

In our last post, we examined why toddlers and preschoolers ask A LOT of questions and shared ways to encourage their curiosity and cognitive development. But from my personal experience (like many other parents out there), patience and understanding during this phase can wear thin. Every now and then, we resort to “I don’t know, ask your father/mom” or “Because it just is,” simply in hopes to make the questions end.

Yeah, we know it’s not the best move and the last thing we want is for our kids to completely stop asking questions all together. So, how can we tolerate the barrage of questions without losing our cool?

Take a Moment

If you feel like you’re about to blow your gasket if your kiddo asks another question, that’s a sign you need to take a step back and reset yourself. From our Whole-Brain Child Approach series, our stress and emotions can have an effect on our child. Studies have shown that children who are frequently discouraged will withdraw to protect themselves emotionally.  Obviously, we don’t want that to happen. So, take a 5- or 10-minute break to decompress and return ready to help.

Establish Boundaries

Kids will ask a question the moment it comes to mind. They can’t help it. But it can occur during times of inconvenience, like when you’re in the middle of a conversation or while working from home. It’s a little like juggling too many balls in the air. Make it a point to establish when they can have your full attention. For example, my son has many thoughts regarding cars, engines, and nature. We enjoy going down that rabbit hole of questions, but sometimes we can’t drop everything to give him a full, thoughtful answer. So, we let him know when we’ll have the time to discuss all the things. (“After I finish talking to Tita Patti, we’ll look it up together” or “When the clock says 5:00pm, I’ll be able to help you find the answer”). Just remember to keep your word.

Reframe Perspective

Take it as a compliment that your child tasks you as the all-knowing being in their life. It’s a sign that they trust and look up to you. The volley between questions and answers is a form of communication that strengthens and deepens relationships. So even if you’re at your wits end dealing with all their curiosities, reframe your thinking. Know that they want to bond with you and this is one way of accomplishing that. Aww…

Just like any other conversation you hold with people, be mindful of your body language and tone as these are non-verbal signals of your interest in their questions and what they have to say.

Read Between the Whys

Recall that your toddler just came out of the “no” and “mine” phase where they were communicating their wants and needs. In this “why” stage, they are recognizing that such a simple word generates a response from you. This might mean that their questions could just be a way to gain and sustain your attention. If this is the case, determine what they really want. For instance, my son will ask a question he already knows the answer to. Turns out he just wants me to spend a bit more time with him before I tackle another task from my to-do list or just before he goes to bed.

Uh, Phrasing

If you start to feel those statements of “Because” and “I don’t know” about to spill out after the 129th question of the day, try using “You tell me why” instead.  

We’ve discussed in our last post that questions help build your child’s knowledge and critical thinking skills, so know that you’re helping them out while you briefly evade their interrogation. If this phrase trips them up, that’s okay. They may need some follow-up questions like:

  • What would happen if….we didn’t tie our shoelaces and ran outside?
  • Do you think…it would rain if there are no clouds in the sky?
  • Do you see…how messy your room is?

Give them a second to think about it, giving you a moment to breathe and turn a random why question into a teachable moment or meaningful conversation with them. You can see the wheels turning in their head as they get to answer by themselves.

This curious and talkative stage with your kid can be wonderful but tiring. Know that you’re not alone and that we all will get through it, one question at a time.


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