Why do people have to wear shoes?
Why is there glass on the ground?
Why do people throw glass on the ground?
Why do birds have two wings?
Why do mosquitoes bite people?
Why do flies eat poop?
Why do girls have two butts?”
If I have mastered anything in parenting at all, it’s the ‘why’ stage. I’m not the best at packing lunches or tying shoes, but I can only remember one time I haven’t outlasted a child on a why campaign. The boys and I were late to somewhere and I was driving in heavy traffic with a sinus infection headache. I would like a do-over on that trip because I’m sure their questions were very worthwhile.
If you’re thinking I couldn’t possibly manage the whys of your children, you apparently haven’t met mine. I don’t boast often in my life (at least I try not to), so please give me this one.
My 3 tips for outlasting a why loop:
- Make your answer as small as possible. You can always expand out. If they ask, “why is the sky blue,” start with “because that’s how the light in the sky looks to us.” So many directions to go from that one small answer! You might end up having to explain molecules and sun rays, or you may end up on a tangent about how people who cannot see get along in the world.
- If you don’t know the answer or don’t like your answer, be honest and/or deflect. I’ve told Hoot and Wise, “I don’t know but we can look it up,” more times than I can remember. If they ask why I don’t know, I tell them, “Because I’m not perfect — I don’t know everything,” and ask “Where do you think we can figure out the answer?” This answer worked when I taught in a Montessori School 15 years ago, and it works now. Also, saying “What do you think?” can be fun. Earlier today, Hoot asked me, “What do ducks eat?” Fish. “What do sharks eat?” Fish. “So why people like ducks but not sharks?” I had a long answer to that that but I didn’t really feel like saying it. Instead I deflected and he told me a long story about a robot named “Transform-i.” Transform-i had a nice pet fish that was eaten by a shark. So “Transform-i” got a new fish, but that fish wasn’t nice at all. A duck ate the new fish. Transform-i was still sad about his nice old fish, but at least he didn’t have to worry about feeding and taking care of his new mean fish. “So dats why people do like ducks but people don’t like sharks.” I like that answer as well as any I’d have given him tonight.
- Realize it’s not really about your answer, but rather the conversation. Your answers matter, of course, but this isn’t a police interrogation, a job interview, or an oral exam in graduate school. Ultimately, the child is just trying to talk to you, and as long as you keep engaging, you’re not going to get it wrong.
When I think about what I’ll miss about having truly young kids, the why stage tops the list.