Why Do Kids Ask Why?

“Why is it raining?”

“Why is the garbage truck here?”

“Why is there only one sun?”

“Why is that a construction site?”

“Why can’t I see my eyes?”*

If you have a 3- or 4-year old, these questions probably look very familiar. Veerrrry familiar. Kids this age ask a lot of questions, which can be funny, interesting and, admittedly, incredibly irritating. So, we wondered: why do kids ask so many questions? Why?! Here’s what we found.

Their Language is Developing

Most kids begin talking between 18-24 months (though, of course, this varies). By 2, most kids have a vocabulary of 25-50 words. Between the age of 3-4, a child’s vocabulary expands to 250-500 words. That’s an incredible jump in language!

Remember: every child hits these milestones in their own time; these numbers are not hard-and-fast. If you’re concerned about your child’s linguistic development, talk to your pediatrician!

Asking questions is how we learn — and toddlers ask questions to understand all these new words they’re learning. Plus, when you explain the answer to one “why” question, you’re likely using lots of new words in your answer. Thus, opening the door for more questions!

When answering your child, don’t be vague. Kids this age take everything literally (think Amelia Bedelia), so use clear and concrete language your child will understand!

They’re Curious!

A preschooler is much more engaged with their environment than a toddler. Remembering events, telling stories, and understanding concepts such as same/different and yesterday/today are all big milestones your child is hitting. With this new found sense of understanding comes a natural curiosity about, well, everything.

Challenge your child with questions of your own! Statements such as “Why do you think that is?” or “Can you think of any reasons for that?” encourage your curious child to think critically — and she may even answer her own questions!

They’re Questioning Your Authority

Sometimes, kids ask “why” when they’re wondering “why” a parent is saying what they’re saying. For example, when you say, “We’re going home now,” and your child responds “Why?” — they really mean “Why do we have to go now? I’m having fun right now. I don’t want to go home.

When you’re telling your kid to do something, try giving your child appropriate notice so they don’t feel like the fun rug has been pulled from beneath them. Also giving choices (what they can read in the car, a snack they can have at home, two more things they can do at the park) will help give your child the sense of control and independence they’re craving.

They Love Having Your Attention!

Kids are smart. Like, scary smart. They know how to get your attention — whether it’s positive or negative. Asking questions gets them your full attention — and they love that!

Sometimes, your kid’s questions are a ploy for your attention — similar to the old “I’m thirsty,” “I’m hot,” or “I need to go potty” that conveniently happen at bedtime. So, do a little investigative work: if you’ve been spending lots of time, say, potty training your 4-year-old’s little sister, the question overload could be your kid’s way of securing your attention.

What To Do After You’ve Responded to the First 1,234 Questions

It’s easy to get frustrated by your kid’s questions. When you’ve answered a million questions and they just.keep.coming, you have a few options:

  • Calmly tell your child that you’ll answer later. Write down the questions on a sticky note and put it on the fridge, as a visual reminder to your child that you haven’t forgotten about their questions (even though, your tot might have moved on to a million new questions, five minutes later).
  • Explain that you don’t know, but “why don’t we figure out together.” This response validates your child’s curiosity, teaches problem-solving skills and gives her the attention she’s craving. So, grab your kid, the computer, and search for the answer — together.
  • There are also some great reference books for kids aimed at answering “why” questions. Even if your tot can’t read yet, encourage them to grab a book and look through the pages.

Remember — your child is not (actively) trying to drive you insane! The world’s a complicated place, and kids are trying to figure it out.

And, really: why can’t we see our eyes? It’s a legitimate question.

For ways to enhance your toddler’s ever-expanding vocabulary, check out How to Boost Your Child’s Vocabulary!

*Actual questions asked by my 4 year old!

Photo credits: Sarah M., Ashley Sisk.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, PBS.org.

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Sarah is a yoga practicing, mostly vegan, coffee chugging, Jack White-loving, stay-at-home-mom to three kids 4 and under in Cincinnati, Ohio. In her free time, she does freelance work for Cincinnati Parent, Dayton Parent and Indy's Child, and blogs about her adventures with three kids in the Queen City.

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