“Why is the dog barking?”

“Why is that house yellow?”

“Why can’t I eat my Halloween candy for breakfast?”

“Why did our dog die?”

These questions have nothing in common, except that they are all things my four-year-old daughter asked me while I backed out of the driveway this morning. If you have a  preschooler and feel like your days are an endless barrage of questions, you are not alone. According to research, children between two and four years old ask an average of 76 questions per hour. This can be overwhelming, no matter how patient or committed you are to satisfying your child’s inquiring mind.

Why Do Kids Ask Why?

Despite how it may feel, kids are not asking why incessantly just to annoy their parents. Asking why is a key part of preschoolers’ cognitive development. Studies have shown that children’s conceptual knowledge tends to develop within everyday conversations. When our kids ask why, they are gathering information, looking for patterns, and drawing conclusions.

How To Respond When Kids Ask Why

So how do we, as parents, answer these give good answers to these constant queries without losing our minds? Here are a few options:

  • Give an explanation that is both true and has real-world applications. This is easier for some questions than others. “Why can’t I eat my Halloween candy for breakfast?” is fairly simple to answer with an explanation about eating to be healthy and avoiding cavities.
  • Give minimal information, leaving the door open for more in-depth questions. Sometimes, kids ask really complex questions. When our dog passed away last year, my daughter was three and had a lot of questions. Initially, I gave her a short, matter of fact answer that aligns with our family’s beliefs. Then I ended with, “I can talk more about it if you have more questions.” The first time, my daughter said no and that was it. A few days later, she had more questions and as they got more specific, so did my answers.
  • Be willing to say, “I don’t know” or “I can’t answer that right now.” Telling our children we don’t know the answer encourages a growth mindset and helps them understand learning as a constant and ongoing process. Additionally, if you search for the answer with your child, it teaches them how to find answers for themselves.

Kids are insatiably curious. Responding to their questions with good explanations that allow the opportunity to ask more later can both satisfy their curiosity and help their cognitive development. And if you are really lucky, it might buy you thirty seconds before their next question.

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Ali Smith-Poe is a freelance writer and mom.