At least 50 times a day, I hear our 3-year-old ask, “But why?” And we have full time care… so that means she’s asking it at least 100 times a day. Sometimes we go down a why vortex of 10 consecutive whys until I just say “because that’s how it is!”. I’m sure every parent and caregiver can relate, but it still doesn’t feel good.

There must be something behind these questions, so the other day I stopped myself and found something that will dramatically improve my relationship with her.

On our way to school, I realized I forgot the registration forms for summer that were due that day. I turned the car around and told her I needed to get the forms.

3 year-old: But why?
Me: Because they are due today
3 year-old: But why?
Me: Because the Director has to plan out the summer schedules
3 year-old: Buy why?

By nature, at this time I would normally say, “because that’s what she has to do” or some sort of end-of-discussion type answer. I flashed back to two days prior, while getting ready for school, a conversation of:

Me: Time to get dressed, today is a school day! (she goes 3 days per week)
3 year-old: But why?
Me: Because it’s Monday
3 year-old: But why?
Me: That’s just the day of the week!

Surely, she’s not asking why the day of the week is Monday, just like she’s not actually interested in the forms at all. Perhaps she really is wondering, why her 1.5 year-old sister stays at home to play and she goes to school, but today she doesn’t really feel like going. Perhaps has some apprehension about school and wants to know more. So instead of my just-end-it response I parked the car in the driveway, turned around and said:

Me: Do you want to talk about your plans for school this summer?
3 year-old: Yes
Me: We plan to have you go 2 days a week and you’ll have fun with lots of outdoor play, wear your bathing suit, run through the sprinklers, play with water tables, and your sister will go too and be in the toddler class. Does that sound okay to you?
3 year-old: OK. Will the germs be gone in the summer?

Oh goodness, what a heavy subject. To be that young and completely reliant on adults around you to understand this complex world we live in – and have seemingly no control over it. At that moment I wondered, what else is in that little head that she’s questioning all day long that I can help answer to make her feel safe and secure? We continued the conversation for a few more minutes about the germs (covid) and the medicine (the vaccine) and told her that we will make sure she is completely safe and she doesn’t have anything to worry about. We ended with:

Me: Do you have any other questions I can answer for you?
3 year-old: I don’t know if I have any more questions right now.
Me: That’s okay, you know that you can ask me anytime when you do.

My job as a parent is not only to keep my kids safe, secure and loved, but to make sure they know they are safe, secure and loved. From now on, I plan to harness the curiosity of a 3-year-old and when asked a series of questions, stop myself and ask “But why?”

but why? the case of the curious child

Author: Annie Delaney, Rayz Kidz Co-Founder

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