Have you ever been stuck in a never-ending toddler conversation because they followed every answer with yet another “why?”? Just when you think you explained it pretty well, they hit you again with “why,” and you don’t even know what to say.
I kept finding myself stuck in this situation with my two-year-old and finally snapped back with a “BECAUSE I SAID SO.” Knowing deep in my soul that answer wasn’t suitable and decided it was time to deconstruct what I know about toddlers and find an answer on how to handle it.
Understanding their cognitive ability.
(Warning- nerdy paragraph, feel free to skip down if you could care less about cognitive development)
When studying Child Development in college, I researched a developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, whose claim to fame is his 7 Stages of Cognitive Development. (I highly recommend researching more about it to get a better understanding). What I do know, though, is that children from 2-7 are in the preoperational stage. The child’s thinking during this stage is pre (before) operations. This means the child cannot use logic or transform, combine or separate ideas (Piaget, 1951, 1952).
So what does this mean?
When stuck in this “why” situation, I realized that I sat there and racked my brain for the best way to explain it to my toddler. I gave myself multiple pats on the back for thinking, “that was the best answer,” usually, to just be defeated with yet another why. However, in Jean Piaget’s studies, he concluded that children this age can’t use logic like an adult can. Sitting there giving all these great answers doesn’t register in her head like they would if you talked to another adult or older child.
I can now understand why someone many years ago came up with the “Because I said so”.
It’s also important to address that toddlers seek power and attention while also having so much curiosity about the world, which is another massive part of it.
So what do you do?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic phrase I can give you, but there are ways to answer it that are more beneficial than “because I said so” and a lot easier than coming up with 1,000 responses. The main idea here is that answering their question leads you nowhere, so let’s teach them better skills to give them that attention they want without driving you crazy.
Ask them the question back.
Mommy, why are we driving a car to the store?
Well, why do you think we would drive instead of walk?
The teacher in me loves this one because it aids in reasoning skills. (Which will be a fantastic skill to have when learning to comprehend text)
Answer the question with a different question.
Daddy, why do lions growl so loud?
Because they are so big and ferocious, why do bears growl so loud?
This response gets their one-track mind to move onto the next thing while also keeping their curiosity running.
Admit you don’t know.
If you don’t know the answer tell them that! To go an extra step, encourage them to ask others or find out elsewhere. Teaching your child that it’s ok not to know something is a great skill. Too often, we are taught that this is a sign of weakness. However, when embraced, willingness to admit you don’t know something and that you’re eager to learn it is far more powerful.
Create a “Why” chart.
This one was so fun to do with my toddler! She loved it, and I love anything that teaches them print carries meaning (these posts really making me realize my inner nerd), so it was a win-win.
We used a poster board and wrote Harley’s Questions at the top. Anytime I found myself stuck in the “why’s” battle, I asked her if she wanted to go write it on the why chart. It gave her questions value, which she appreciated, but was also a great way to get her to move on. Sometimes we’d ask daddy or other people to answer the questions later; sometimes, we just forgot about it.
I kept finding myself stuck in this situation with my two-year-old and finally snapped back with a “BECAUSE I SAID SO.”
These are all just simple ways to help you move on while still providing some value to your toddler. Needless to say, though, the why phase is simply that, a phase. So laugh at it; one day, you’ll miss those “why’s”.