As any parent of a toddler will tell you, a child this age has two favorite words: “No” and “why.” While both words can be exasperating, the dreaded “why” is especially vexing. This is because “why” often requires a more thoughtful response than “Because I said so.”
But what is really going on with a child who repeatedly asks “why?” If you think they are doing it for the obvious reason – that they really want to know why – congratulations! You figured out something all by yourself that it took an assistant professor of psychology two whole studies to determine.
According to Brandy Frazier and her colleagues at the University of Michigan, kids ask “why” and “how” because they are looking for explanations. To reach this conclusion, they conducted two separate studies. The first looked at transcripts of conversations between six children ages 2 to 4 and their parents, siblings and other people in their homes. The second looked at the conversations between 42 preschoolers who were prompted to ask questions by being shown toys, books and videos in a laboratory setting.
By examining transcripts of the conversations, the researchers determined that the children were more satisfied when they received explanatory answers to their questions. When given such an answer, the children tended to agree or ask a follow-up question. Those who were given answers that weren’t explanations were dissatisfied and either repeated the question or asked it in a different way.
What this means, of course, is that all those “why’s” are actually contributing to the process of your child learning about the world in which he lives. If they also contribute to your daily headache, at least you now have scientific proof that it is not a deliberate plot to drive you crazy.