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The Magic Phrase to Stop Kids Asking Why 70 Million Times a Day

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Tell the Truth! Questions

  1. How old do you think I am?
  2. Who is your worst enemy and why?
  3. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
  4. What's the most expensive thing you've ever broken?
  5. How many times have you ever lied?
  6. What’s the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you?
  7. How many kids do you think you’re gonna have when you get older?
  8. Who’s your crush?

Superpowers, parents, nicknames, and hide-and-seek. Here's a grab bag of other things to talk about.

Image by kim881231 from Pixabay


Postpone answering a question until a more convenient time. Although children may want an immediate answer, you don't always have to supply one. You can acknowledge the question and defer answering it until later.

For example, when little Jenny asks why she had to eat her green beans, mom can say, "I understand that you don't like green beans, but I don't want to debate their value during dinner. We can talk about it later." Of course, mom needs to follow through and discuss the virtues of green beans with Jenny later.

Don't be afraid to say "I don't know."

Sometimes, parents get exhausted trying to come up with the answers to all the questions a child has, particularly when they aren't experts in the area of questioning. For example, when little Jenny asks why vitamins are good for her, mom can answer, "That's a great question. I don't know exactly why. Maybe we can look up the answer together." Of course, mom now has the responsibility of looking up the information with Jenny.

Animal Questions

What is your favorite dinosaur?

  1. If you could ask an animal a question, what would it be?
  2. What does the fox say?
  3. If you were an animal, what would you be?
  4. If stuffed animals could talk, what would they say?
  5. Are you a cat-person or a dog-person?
  6. What animal would you like to ride?
  7. What kind of dragon are you?
  8. If your pet could talk, what would it say?
  9. If you had a parrot, what would it say?

Kids typically think that boogers and poop are hilarious.

Mayastar Lavi, CC BY-SA 2.0, from flickr

What Were Doing Wrong When Our Kids Ask, Why?

My overreaction to a stranger’s friendly comment was the wake-up call I needed.

I realized that for the first few why’s of every day, I was the model of patience. I calmly explained whatever it was to my toddler, sometimes even coming up with a playful metaphor to bring the point home.

But as we reached 5, 10, 20 why’s, my reserves of patience dried up. Not only that, she’d ask “Why?” for the same things, every day.

  • Please shut the baby gate when you go upstairs. Why?
  • It’s time to calm your body down for sleep. Why?
  • Toothpaste is for brushing your teeth, not for eating. Why?

Up until that weekend, I misunderstood what my toddler was really asking when she asked, “Why?”

She didn’t want me to give her the right answer. Giving her the right answer meant she’d still ask the same question the next time.

She wanted me to lead her toward the answer.

How does the “why” stage help kids as they grow?

A study from University College London, found that people who perceived their parents as less psychologically controlling grew up to have greater well-being and life satisfaction. In other words, being a warm and responsive parent by engaging your child in an honest way encourages their learning and awareness, and promotes social and emotional development.

When a child asks a question, it is an opportunity to teach critical thinking skills by delving deeper and asking follow-up questions to encourage them to understand process, causation and even make observations about their environment.

Self-sufficient children are independent because they’ve learned enough about their environment to be capable of doing things on their own and are confident enough to ask the right questions of the right people when they do need help.

The “why stage” is a wonderful opportunity to encourage life-long learning in your child, with the added benefit of strengthening your relationship and promoting healthy independence.

Being patient when my daughter asked for the fifteenth time why I put milk in my cereal was exhausting. Believe me, I was not ready for this at 9:00 AM on Tuesday.

But instead of blowing my top, I just laughed.

I have accepted my latest parenting challenge, knowing that this phase is an important one (and ultimately one I will miss) in raising a self-reliant child.

Ashley is a wife and mom of one girl and a pup nam

Ashley is a wife and mom of one girl and a pup named Stella. She is also the founder of and e-designer for Marie and Maggs Interiors. When she’s not working, she loves going on outdoor adventures with her family and sipping on hot peppermint mochas.


See also:

What Kids REALLY Need to be Confident, Independent, and Self-Reliant

How to Raise Internally Motivated Kids

The Secret to Raising Strong, Resilient Kids

What does why really mean to children?

As adults, the word “why” has a very specific definition, but to young children, it often encompasses many meanings. As clinical psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack explains, “why” doesn’t always mean why, often it is the only word a child knows to express an inquiry or ask a question.”

This can make our job as parents more difficult because we need to discern our child’s real meaning. James Brush, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Cincinnati explains, young children who are just developing conversational and social skills will sometimes engage in asking questions as a way to seek attention or empathy from a loved one.

While sometimes your child may be seeking a few extra snuggles, studies show that children are most frequently seeking an explanation to their question.


The University of Michigan study revealed children are 2 times more likely to re-ask their question when they receive a non-explanation. For example, if your child asks, “Why do dogs wag their tails?” and you respond, “I like dogs” he is twice as likely to re-ask his question than if you answer, “Dogs wag their tails because they’re happy or excited.” However, children are four times more likely to ask a follow-up question after an explanation.

So, the bad news is that answering “because I said so” doesn’t really work.

The question for parents now becomes, do you want to listen to your child asking the same question over and over because you haven’t provided an answer?

Or, do you want to seize the opportunity for learning and engage with your child by providing an adequate explanation and further your conversation?

No final answers

While children do need adult help and guidance, parents don’t always have to be in the position of the expert providing the answers. Thinking with children about their bigger questions can make way for a more mutual kind of interaction.

Because these kinds of questions tend not to have settled and final answers, discussions about them allow parents – and other guardians – and children to wonder together. In this way, adults feel less pressure to be the experts.

Listen when kids ask these thought-provoking questions, acknowledge how hard it is to answer them and respond with an open mind.

How Should You Answer Your Kid Asking ‘Why’?

As a parent, understand which questions need to be immediately answered and which ones can wait. For instance, if your toddler asks you about the number of stars in the universe, you can ask them to wait while you count (or use Google to get a more accurate answer). That will buy you some time to complete the task at hand and spend some quality time with your child later.

On the other hand, if your child asks “why are you not spending time with me?” you will need to come up with something appropriate. This, of course, does not mean you drop everything you’re doing to cater to your child’s demand. We get it, sometimes work takes precedence, especially when there are only those 24 hours in a day.

But, you can use this opportunity to say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I know I’ve been busy but this work is important to mama and we will play soon.”

The idea is that you do not dismiss what your child is feeling at that moment. Your toddler finds validation about life and all things in it with the questions he raises to you. When you shut your kids or simply put them off, they do lose a bit of their self-esteem in the process.

Your Turn

How do you handle your kids asking why? Share in a comment below!

Facebook preview photo by Donnie Ray Jones.