Q&A: Must I answer every “Why?” my toddler asks?

Paige writes:

"I have a son who will be 3 at the end of November (and a daughter whowill be one a few days later, if it matters), and we have, in the last
two weeks, entered the "Why?" phase. I could elaborate with examples,
but he’s screaming from his time out spot on the bottom step, and I
can’t think straight.

Anyway, my question:

Must I answer every "why?" with a straight-faced, truthful answer. And if not, what do I say?

For example: "Sam, please don’t push the garbage can across the floor."


Pause. My impulse, I admit, is to tell him because I said so and be
done with it. But I hated that answer, so I told him it would scratch
the floor.


Pause. Think. "Because metal is harder than wood." Thankfully, he didn’t ask why to that.

This uses more energy than I have after about 10 a.m."

Then she goes on to make some explanations for why she’s a little "edgy" and that makes her not want to not answer questions just because she’s not in the mood.

Ha. Of course she’s a little edgy, with a three-year-old and a one-year-old. No explanation necessary, for sure. And I’m not sure if there’s any stage that beats the "why?" stage for pure annoyance, in that stick-a-pencil-through-your-eye kind of way. It would be worth it if they were actually learning things from all those bogus questions, but that’s not really what’s happening at this stage.

I think there are definitely questions that should be answered. "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why do we recycle?" or "Where did Pop-Pop go when he died?" fall into that camp for me. But I also think there are times that three-year-olds ask "why?" repeatedly just to annoy you, or as kind of a verbal tick. It’s not actually helping them to answer all of these whys seriously, and it’s sure as hell not helping the adults to have to answer each one seriously. (Think about how many more fun things you could be doing with the time you spend answering or fuming about those extraneous whys*.)

For the annoying whys, it may be best to adopt a stance that puts yourself in the position of being rubber instead of glue, so you have a few answers that bounce the question off you and back to the kid. You could use the tried-and-true answers: "Because I’m the mother." "Because I said so." "To make you ask questions."

Or you could try to simultaneously discourage the child from asking why because it makes it more challenging for them and also turn it into a learning experience by asking them "Why do you think?" in a serious manner and wait for a reply.

Or you could go surreal on them and see if they’re really paying attention by answering with something nonsensical: "Because monkeys have purple tails."

Or you could just ship the three-year-old off to his grandmother’s house and let her deal with it for six months.

Any other thoughts?

* Wouldn’t The Extraneous Whys be a good name for a retro synth-pop band?

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