How to Respond When Your Child Keeps Asking “Why?”

Written By

Paige Shiels
July 5, 2021

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Picture this: you’re in the car, you’ve been driving for all of 5 minutes, and your child has already asked you:

“Why do I have to wear shoes?”
“Why are there clouds in the sky?”
“Why is my sister sleeping?”
“Why do I have to sit in a car seat?”
“Why did we have to stop at the light?”

You are getting to the point where you are about to snap and yell, “I DON’T KNOW. STOP ASKING ME!”

When children repeatedly ask us “why,” it can be frustrating. It’s easy to love their curiosity, and at the same time, we sometimes secretly wish they wouldn’t be so curious about everything.

In this blog, I’ll dig deep into why this stage is essential for our children, and five practical ways you can respond to your child when they keep asking this question.

Why Do Kids Ask, “Why?”

This question takes some of that child-like curiosity to answer! Children’s brains are developing rapidly. Their questions can seem repetitive, but answering them helps our children make sense of the world. It’s fascinating when we think of the constant connections these little minds are making.

So while our children need to ask questions, test boundaries, and try new things to make sense of the world, it doesn’t make it easy for us as parents. It can be challenging to be asked questions constantly all day, and it can be a big trigger for many parents.

Whenever I think about this topic, I refer to this incredible quote by Alison Gopnik: “Asking questions is what brains were born to do, at least when we were young children. For young children, quite literally, seeking explanations is as deeply rooted a drive as seeking food or water.”

One of the most remarkable moments I’ve experienced lately was when my oldest daughter asked, “Why can a little tugboat pull a huge ship? It’s too little!” I could see my daughter trying to make connections between things that didn’t make sense to her.

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A happy family of four enjoying time together at an amusement park. The photo captures a close-up of a smiling woman on the left and a beaming man on the right, both facing each other. They are looking lovingly at their two young sons, who are nestled between them. The older boy is grinning broadly and the younger one has a cheeky smile. The background is softly focused, with lights from carnival rides subtly illuminating the scene.

5 Practical Ways to Respond to Your Curious Child

1. Answer Their Question

We see the question “Why?” as your child asking, “Can you tell me more?” They want to hear more from you and understand something they don’t know.

Take the time to give them an answer when you can. If we translate their “whys” into the “tell me more” meaning during those days when all we hear is “Why this, why that,” it can help us remember that our child’s brain is developing. They are just trying to make sense of their world.

As we respond to their questions, their minds are constantly coming up with more questions to help them learn more about this topic:

“Do you have to stop at every red stop light?”
“Why are there green lights the other way?”
“Why does the light turn on when we move the switch?”

2. Set Boundaries When Needed

If you feel triggered by all of the questions, setting a boundary can help you return to a place of calm where (and when) you can continue answering your child’s questions. Boundaries are helpful and can support our little ones when the boundaries come from a place of unconditional love and care. 

“Ah, I love your curious mind! You have so many questions. We are going to take a break from questions for now and can answer more later!”

3. Help Them to Get MORE Curious

Believe it or not, sometimes one of the best ways to answer our child’s “why” questions is by asking them a question in return. Asking a question in return can help them learn critical problem-solving skills,  answer their own questions, and develop their curiosity.

Imagine you are at the beach with your child. They are watching a group of seagulls, and they ask you, “Why do the seagulls have wings?” You could explain that they use their wings to fly, or answer with a question: “You’re right; the seagulls do have wings. Can you watch them and see what they use their wings for?”

In this example, instead of just answering the question, which would likely lead to more questions, you are giving your child a chance to get curious. You are giving them some guidance on how they might find the answer to their questions (by watching the birds) and allowing them to be curious and answer their own question. 

Of course, this response might only work with some questions they ask, but remember this as you respond to your curious child. 

4. Get Curious About the Why Behind the “Why?”

Sometimes questions are soothing for kids to hear the answer to when they are nervous or anxious about something. Getting curious about your child’s questions and investigating the potential fear behind them can help in how you approach their questions. 

Kids may ask questions repeatedly because hearing the same answer creates a sense of safety. It feels familiar, and they know what to expect. Other times, it’s just a way to build a conversation with you, and if you talk about something else, it will satisfy their need.

“I hear you keep asking me about _______. I’ve already answered it. I wonder why you’re still curious?”

“I hear you asking me why we are going to Grandpa’s again; what’s up?”

5. Ask Them to Find Answers

On those days when you feel like you can’t answer any more questions, you can encourage your child to try and find the answer for themselves. 

Reflect on their question to let them know you heard them, and then ask them what they can do themselves.

My daughter recently let go of a balloon, which promptly floated to the ceiling. It was just outside of her grasp, and she asked if we could help her get it (after she asked us why balloons float to the ceiling instead of dropping to the floor sometimes.) After my husband explained a little about how some balloons float, we asked her if there was any way she could get the balloon herself. She spent the next five minutes searching for objects and tools that she could use to get the balloon until she finally found the tongs and was able to grab hold of the string connected to the balloon. By doing this, we enabled her to get curious about her own question and find her own solutions.

“I love how curious you are. That’s such a great question! I wonder what answers you can come up with.”

“I love your curious mind! It’s fun to watch you learn all about the world. I can’t wait to hear what answers you can come up with!”

More Ways to Understand Your Child

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Key Takeaways

  1. Embrace your child’s curiosity and see their questioning as a sign of their developing brain and desire to make sense of the world.
  2. Respond to their “why” questions by giving them more information and encouraging them to learn and explore.
  3. Set boundaries when needed to maintain your own calm and mental well-being.
  4. Foster their curiosity by asking them questions in return and encouraging problem-solving skills.
  5. Stay curious about the underlying reasons behind their questions, as they may be seeking reassurance or looking for a conversation.
  6. Empower your child to find answers themselves, promoting independence and critical thinking skills.
  7. Appreciate and celebrate your child’s curiosity, even when it feels draining, as it is a valuable part of their growth and learning.

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    Article By

    Paige Shiels
    Paige is an Early Childhood Educator with a passion for supporting children and families. As a Registered Early Childhood Educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Youth and Children’s Studies, Paige has been working with children and families for over 10 years. She has experience in children’s programming, child care centres, and supporting families at early learning centres. At Nurtured First, Paige has been a part of creating resources for parents and supporting families through our online groups and discussions. She loves having the opportunity to help families create deep, meaningful and nurturing relationships with their children. Outside of her professional life, Paige loves spending time with friends and family and travelling to new places.