Children begin to explore their environment as a way to learn about the world around them from as early as four months. Placing objects in their mouths or picking up items are ways of touching base and investigating their surroundings.
As a child’s vocabulary increases and further cognitive and language development takes place, this exploration takes the form of questioning. Developmentally, toddlers between the ages of one and three are increasingly curious about people and their surroundings.
“Why is the sky blue, why do I need to bath, why is that cat black, why, why, why…” Sound familiar? Answering a child’s incessant stream of questions can become exhausting for any parent.
But it’s important to remember that the questions are a normal part of a child’s burgeoning curiosity. When asking a barrage of ‘”why’s”, your child is not simply trying to prolong a conversation; she is trying to figure out the answer to her question, to find an explanation to her curiosity.
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Your child is not trying to aggravate you in any way, but simply wants to know and learn more.
The types of questions your child asks give you some insight as to what she is thinking about, and how much of her environment and surroundings affect her. Your child may also be asking these questions as a way of bringing up a certain topic that she’s curious about.
“Because I said so!” is often a parent’s final answer to a series of questions from a toddler, but it may not be the right response. While it may stop the questioning for a while, think about what message you send to your child by saying this.
Studies have shown that children are more likely to ask a question again if they are not satisfied with the previous response, or if the response is non-explanatory or dismissive. It’s important to give your child answers to her questions, irrespective of how tiresome they become for you to answer.
It is important to assess whether your child's queries are age appropriate.
While her questions may surprise you, she is asking for a reason. So it’s important to give age-appropriate details. Don’t exclude information if your tot asks about something, but don’t give too much information, which could be overwhelming. When dealing with difficult topics, it is often beneficial to make use of books or stories.
If your toddler’s questions catch you off guard, it may help to tell her that you need to think about the answer. Make sure that you get back to her with a response so she knows she’s been heard.
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Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question, but use the opportunity to explore the possibilities and answers together. Turn the question around and ask “Why do you think that is?”
Your child may also enjoy asking questions because she knows they demand your attention, and therefore offer are an opportunity to interact with you.
The tough stuff
Certain topics may be more difficult to approach, especially in an age-appropriate way. Remember that even though your child is asking a question, she may not have the understanding to grasp the full scope of that specific topic just yet, and it may need a bit of finesse.
On death and dying
Toddlers and young children do not always understand the finality of death. When somebody they know dies they may ask about when they will next see the person, or why the person is not present at a birthday party or event. As hard as it may be, your child needs to be reminded, each time she asks, that the person is not coming back.
When your child has questions about death, her concerns and reactions to it may be different to yours. Do not avoid her questions but offer her age-appropriate details. Try to avoid euphemisms like, “Grandpa’s gone to sleep,” or, “Granny gone away,” because they confuse your child later on.
Bear in mind that toddlers are literal learners, and cannot understand abstract concepts. Give responses to your child’s questions using words that she can understand. For example, telling a child that the person’s body stopped working is an easier and more literal way for them to understand death.
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Where do babies come from?
As soon as a child asks the question about procreation, she is ready to know certain details. This question can be answered in stages, depending on your child’s developmental level. It is important that you are aware of your child’s development with regards to sexuality for this.
Gauge from your child’s responses and further questions how much she has understood. You don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty, but outline the basic technicalities.
Make use of the correct terminology for genitalia to avoid placing taboo on body parts. If your child can say words such as “penis” and “vagina”, there is no reason to call them something different.
Using anatomically correct dolls or pictures may also be beneficial. In summary, there is no perfect way to respond to a child’s questions. Paying attention, providing an explanation that is sufficient and appropriate, and helping your child explore her curiosities will all assist in this process.
That doesn’t mean your child won’t ask further questions, but she will be learning as she goes. Most of all enjoy this time where your child interacts with you in a very special way. Before you know it, she’ll be a teenager and the roles will be reversed.