Young children are natural learners and great observers of the here and now. They constantly try to gather information about what goes on around them, and that means they ask many questions and talk a lot: “Who’s that?” “Why is she doing that?” “Where is that truck going?” Since a child believes that adults know everything, she assumes that her parents will have the answer to each question. She also assumes that everything has a purpose that can be discovered just by asking: “Why is that man so tall?”
Sometimes a child uses questions to relieve her anxieties. She may ask, “Why is that dog barking?” because she’s afraid of the dog. At other times, she might ask a stream of questions or talk on and on just to be sociable and stay in constant contact with her parents.
Many times, as soon as you’ve answered your child’s question, she’ll ask the same question again or follow your explanation with an immediate “Why?” This can be annoying because you may feel that you’re constantly responding to your child. At times it’s hard to know what your child wants, since she’s often not satisfied by your explanations. If you question her before you offer a complex answer, you may gain some insight into her real needs: “What do you think that word means?” “Tell me why you think that man was running.”
Sometimes your child will repeatedly ask “why” and reject an answer because she doesn’t understand it. She may have difficulty absorbing facts that aren’t familiar or that don’t relate directly to her experience. That’s why parents should answer questions on a level that’s appropriate for their child. And they should expect to hear the same questions over and over because it takes time and repetition before a child can master complex information.
Your child may occasionally ask a question that’s difficult to answer. One four-year-old from a family with three children asked her friend’s mother, “Why do you only have two kids?” The mother, concerned that the child might be upset by an honest answer (two was all she wanted), put the question back to the child, “Why do you think I only have two children?” She replied, “Because you wanted to,” and was satisfied.
A problem often arises when young children ask socially embarrassing questions. You may be in a store with your child when she points to someone and loudly asks, “Why is he so fat?” She has no understanding of the man’s feelings and asks only because she’s spontaneous and curious. Yet you’ll naturally feel ashamed and sorry. The best you can do at such moments is give her a brief, quiet answer (“That’s just the way he looks”), and then try to distract her or promise to discuss the situation later.
When your child’s constant questions and general chatter bother you, remember that she’s curious and interested in what goes on around her, and you’re the one she’ll ask to get answers to her questions. Let her know that you’re interested and listening, even if at times you just acknowledge her talk by nodding or saying, “I’m listening,” or even, “Um-hmm.” Listening to her questions will help you gain insight into how your child thinks.