Just as a parent becomes used to her toddler saying “no” to nearly everything for the past two years, now she is asking why. “Why is the sky blue? Why do the ants cross the sidewalk? Why do some dogs have long hair and other dogs have short hair? Why is the grass green? Why is there sometimes a rainbow after rain and sometimes there is no rainbow? Why are zebras black and white? Why are rocks heavy? Please, Mom, tell me why.”
Why do four- and five-yea-olds ask so many why questions? Children by this age have acquired considerable motor control, language ability and intellectual competence. Now they run, climb and jump with confidence. Easily, they can be into everything. Their whole world becomes an adventure land they are determined to explore by touching and tasting nearly every waking minute. These little explorers find the world fascinating, exciting, and amazing. Fueled by endless curiosity, they begin asking seemingly endless “why” questions.
Logically, they figure, the persons who will know the answers to all their questions should be mom or dad. Children truly believe in the first three years of life that their parents are omniscient. By asking why, the preschooler begins to make a startling discovery. Her mom and dad are not all-knowing! In fact, they don’t even know the answers to even the simplest of questions.
The fallibility of one’s parents is a hard blow for both the parents and the growing child. Parents must adjust as this awareness will continue to grow with increasing certainty, reaching its climax around the age of 15. By then parents will know next to nothing and find themselves fondly remembering the brief period of time when they knew everything.
Rather than feel threatened, the good parent admits there is much that he or she doesn’t know. By doing so, the parent is beginning to teach the child that the world is so big, so interesting, so fascinating, that a lifetime of asking why will barely scratch the surface. That’s okay. Reaching for what we do not yet understand is what keeps life exciting. The desire to know, fueled by curiosity, is one of the richest joys of living.
Wise parents fuel their child’s never ending desire to know by taking time to answer their why questions. If no answer is readily available, good parents seize the opportunity to join the child as together they seek to find answers that make reasonable sense to their child. Also, wise parents stimulate their child’s natural curiosity by providing toys that challenge the preschooler to explore and discover such as puzzles, books, or even a large box that can become a store, an airplane, a slide, a hideout . . . Legos (or Duplos for the younger child) are some of the best toys ever made. Look for toys that stimulate exploration, initiative, and curiosity.
If parents fail to encourage “why” questions, the child can easily develop a sense of guilt concerning her desire to know. When questions are not answered (or answered harshly), parents can squelch the child’s natural curiosity which may simultaneously destroy her desire to learn. Feeling guilt about wanting to understand our world may so discourage the child that she is either too afraid to ask why or too indifferent by the time she reaches elementary school.
“Why does Holly have green eyes and I have brown eyes?”
“Why is it cold in January and hot in July?”
“Why do we have vegetables for dinner instead of cookies?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out. Come to think of it, maybe we need to question this whole vegetable and cookie thing.”