toddlers-ask-whyEveryone knows toddlers love to ask why. It’s one of those things we all just seem to know. The stereotypical toddler, answering every word from their parents with WHY?

The one thing that’s never mentioned though, the thing I’ve only realised since having S, is that toddlers don’t really know what the word means.

A few months ago, S began answering anything she didn’t like with why? – or perhaps but whyyyy? – But when I responded with a reason, the only answer I got was but why?

I soon realised that S had learned this from her peers at nursery. She had recently moved into a room that catered for children from age 3 right up to the time they left to begin Reception year at school. Some of her friends were almost 5, and much further along the learning curve S had only just embarked upon.

S had clearly heard older chilren, when faced with not playing outside, or having to tidy the book corner, or having to eat their dinner, with why? – and had learned that this is the proper response to hearing something you don’t like.

She began saying it to me, any time something happened that she didn’t like.

We can’t go to the library; it’s closed because it’s Sunday. Why?

Because it’s Sunday and the doors are closed. See? The lights are off. But why?

Because it’s Sunday and the library isn’t open on Sundays Why?

She’s not really questioning the age-old British tradition of Sunday being a day of rest; what she’s really saying is but I really wanted to go to the library today; I like reading the books and looking in the funny mirror and I’m disappointed that we can’t go in there.

Once I realised this, it became easier to deal with the incessant why-ing. I realised the whys weren’t so much about cause and effect or reasoning; more just an expression of disappointment or displeasure. And so, instead of a long, repetitive ping-pong conversation where we both repeat the same words over and over again, our conversations have turned into something more like this:

We can’t go to the library; it’s closed because it’s Sunday. Why?

Because it’s Sunday and the doors are closed. The lights are off too. Lots of places don’t open on a Sunday. Look, these doors are closed too. Why?

I love the library; you do too, don’t you. Shall we see if it’s open tomorrow instead? Look, this shop is closed and so is this one… This one is closed too! But this one is open!

Yes, some shops open on a Sunday but some don’t. Let’s see if this one is open…

Here’s the thing: at three years old, S doesn’t really want a detailed explanation of why the library isn’t open. What she really wants to know is that she is allowed to go into the library; that it’s not closed forever; that we can go in there another day; that this is normal, and I understand her frustration.

As she grows older, she will no doubt learn the actual meaning of the word, and will begin to ask the questions all children ask when we’d rather they just talked about monkeys or something: why is the sky blue; why is that dog brown; why is that person so tall; why do your shoes make that noise; why is that lady staring at me.

I’m hoping the same rules will apply then, and that rather than needing me to explain why that dog is brown, she will be happier to chat about the fact some dogs are brown and some are white, and some are black, and some are spotty… and so on.

Why is this stuff not in some manual somewhere?!

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


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