Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

The trouble with “Why?”:

The repeated "Why?" can be a trap for many parents who think reasoning and logic will work on their child.
By Kylie Johnston
Date: July 24 2013
Editor Rating:

As an early childhood teacher, one of the questions parents regularly ask me is how to deal with the “Why?” question from their young child. I’m sure you’re familiar with it.

“Luke, it’s time for bed,” you might say to your 4-year-old.

“Why?” comes the response.

If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably fallen into the trap laid by our clever kids with this question and attempted to reason with them or, worse, give-in to their demands.

When your child starts saying “Why?” to everything you say you think ‘oh, he’s being inquisitive, that’s wonderful’. But then you realise you might be being duped. More often than not, it’s a stalling tactic or a form of protest. It can also be a way of holding your attention.

All parents like to think their children are gifted but trying to reason with them about something such as going to bed is not going to work nine times out of ten. The best thing to say in response to Luke mentioned above:

“Because it’s time for bed now. This isn’t open for debate.”

In doing so, it’s okay to acknowledge Luke's feelings, for example:

“I know you don’t want to go to bed, but it IS bedtime.”

Children don’t really want to be reasonable or reasoned-with, they just want to get their own way. Even if he or she does actually understand the logic of your well-reasoned arguments, that is unlikely to outweigh their desire to get what they want. Some parents think that if they keep reasoning with their child, they might eventually find the one that works.

Having said that, there are times when “Why?” is a legitimate and good question, and is an opportunity for your child to learn and grow. This sort of “Why?” has a beginning and an end.

Here are a few tips for dealing with the “Why?” question.

  • It’s okay not to answer a child who keeps repeating “Why?”. Just say directly “I’ve answered enough of your questions now” and then stick to ignoring the next 50 “Whys?”. They will stop.
  • Do not take the bait when your direction or response to a request is protested (generally by a slightly older child).
  • Do not even attempt to answer a Why?” by reasoning.
  • If you get the common negative response of “I hate you”, don’t be fooled by it. My mum used to say to me: “That’s okay. I still love you. And it IS bedtime.”

The endless repetition of "Why?" and the complaints from your little one may be tiring at the end of the day, but don’t give in. If you do, it will just get worse next time.

Why? Because kids who participate in the incessant “Why?” behaviour want to ‘win’ and if you give-in for the sake of your, or the family’s, peace and quiet, it’s a victory a young child will want time and time again.

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