Why Does Your Child Ask Why?

How to respond to your child’s curious and social needs, and recognize defiance.

After answering the millionth 'why' of the day from my three year old, I asked my husband, “How do I know when to answer the question and when to insist on obedience?” I found the answer the next day in my Facebook feed.

If only life were always that easy.

The answer was in the form of an article by author and speaker, Jen Wilkin. Her insight is just too good not to share. I love it when wiser and more experienced moms share their wisdom in such a clear and concise way.

She says there are three 'why’s' a child asks: the Curious Why, the Social Why and the Defiant Why. She explains the reasoning behind each type of question and gives practical ways to lovingly answer your child.

She says,

Failure to distinguish between them is a surefire invitation for parental insanity to ensue. Identifying them correctly, however, helps us know how and when to respond, ensuring that we neither shut down honest questions nor entertain unproductive ones.”

Since reading the article, I’ve found my daughter communicates some of the same needs or misbehavior not just by asking why questions, but also in other ways.

She is very affectionate and often wants me to hold her, seemingly always when I’m busy, like getting dinner ready. I’ve come to realize that is simply her way of communicating her social need.

So if I’m able, I stop what I’m doing, stoop down and give her a squeeze. I tell her I love her, that I’m preparing dinner for the family, and that I’d be happy to snuggle with her afterwards. Then I help redirect her on to something else.

Or even better, I include her in the preparations if I can. Either way, I’m meeting her social need and communicating her worth to me.

Jen’s advice for the Defiant Why also translates to my daughter’s defiant version of “okay, but first…” She frequently wants to do something first before she obeys. If I’m on top of things, I can head this off by telling her she can do one more thing and then it’s time to clean up.

But if she tries to delay compliance once I’ve given her the opportunity to do one more thing, I need to intervene.

The conversation is similar to the one Jen describes in her article. Instead of telling my daughter what I said once again, I ask her to tell me what the instructions were. By doing so, I’m highlighting her understanding of my instruction and giving her responsibility to follow it. She can either obey or there will be consequences for refusal.

Parenting is a journey with a steep learning curve. It can feel like there is a lot at stake in raising our children.

But I’m so glad there are people to help me in my journey: people like Jen, who offer sound advice and those in my community who support me and do life beside me.

I hope Jen’s article gives you new understanding into the little ones in your home. And I pray that you have encouraging and wise voices in your life.

How do you deal with the curious, social and defiant behaviors in your house?

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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