Why Does My Toddler Repeat Conversations?

“Mommy? Can we go play with (the neighbors)?”

“Not now, they went to Malibu and won’t be back until after bedtime.”

“But I want to play with (the neighbors)!”

“I’m sorry, but they had other things to do today. They went to see their cousins. We can see what they’re doing tomorrow?”



“But I want to play with them right now!”

“But they’re not home. How can you play with them if they’re not home?”

Shnook resumes playing with trains.

Three minutes pass.  Maybe it was only thirty seconds.

“Mommy? Can we go play with (the neighbors)?”

I know my toddler is not the only one who does this, and until today, after the above conversation happened twenty-six times, I never thought to figure out “why” they do this. So, today I attempted a little research on the developmental reasons behind my three-year-old’s curious ritualistic behavior.  How come he can’t just accept the answer and always has to dig deeper with yet another “why?” and how come he “resets” and repeats the conversation even though he knows “why?”

I understand my younger toddler’s need to repeat the dozen or so words that he knows, and for him, it’s not yet at the annoying phase, so when he says: “Cat! Cat! Cat! Cat! Cat!”  I just think it’s cute.

I stumbled on a study from the University of Michigan which followed the conversational trends of 2- to 5-year-olds. Here’s what they found:

By looking at how the children reacted to the answers they received to their questions, the researchers found that children seem to be more satisfied when they receive an explanatory answer than when they do not. In both studies, when preschoolers got an explanation, they seemed satisfied (they agreed or asked a new follow-up question). But when they got answers that weren’t explanations, they seemed dissatisfied and were more likely to repeat their original question or provide an alternative explanation.

“Examining conversational exchanges, and in particular children’s reactions to the different types of information they get from adults in response to their own requests, confirms that young children are motivated to actively seek explanations,” according to the researchers. “They use specific conversational strategies to obtain that information. When preschoolers ask ‘why’ questions, they’re not merely trying to prolong conversation, they’re trying to get to the bottom of things.”

This seems only logical. Shnook didn’t like my answer for why he couldn’t play with his neighbors, so he felt like he had to keep asking and asking until he got the answer he wanted. If you think about it, most of us would like life to work this way, right?  Just like when we step on the scale five times in a row hoping that the number will be slightly lower than the last time we stepped on it.  That works for you, right? I know it does for me! Especially the morning after Thanksgiving.

If nothing else, persistence is a useful trait.

Is your toddler like mine?

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

Article Posted 7 years Ago

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