Children are inquisitive. They are born with curiosity and a drive to explore their environment. Just think about a newly-mobile toddler eagerly investigating every nook and cranny of a room, every piece of fuzz or dead bug, every cigarette butt or pebble on the sidewalk. The young child’s need to learn and explore seems insatiable. It is one of the reasons parents can’t take their eyes off the child for a minute, or that exuberant child may climb on top of a table or throw a set of keys into a trash can. Children reawaken our own sense of wonder and discovery as they take delight in everyday moments.
In time, this desire to learn about the world moves from mere physical exploration to verbal communications. This is the developmental stage characterized by the child asking questions, many of which are repeated verbatim by the child even though you have already answered the question multiple times. I think children ask the same questions over and over again for a couple of reasons.
First of all, they truly want to know the answer. By asking the question over and over they are learning if the answers are always the same. Knowing that the answer is predictable and consistent is reassuring for a child. As exhausting as this questioning phase can be, it is important to the child because this is how they learn concepts such as yes means yes and no means no. The answer is always the same. Without learning this consistency at a young age, a child is likely to continue to test limits in hopes that this time he will get a different result than he has on previous occasions. Being consistent in your responses will help the child learn that you mean what you say, and ultimately benefits you both as you establish healthy boundaries for behavior early on in childhood.
Another reason children ask so many questions is to keep you engaged with them. It is an effective strategy to keep the interaction going. While you are answering his questions you are paying attention to the child, and that is often more rewarding for the child than the actual answers. The question is just a means to an end. If your child has asked you the same question repeatedly even though he already knows the answer it may be the desire to continue conversing with you that is the driving force behind that behavior. There may be times when you have been answering your child’s questions all day long and finally tell him the answer is, “Because I said so!”
Certainly there are times when your child just plain needs to do what you are requesting without hearing a full discourse on the reasons for your request. This is especially true for those issues that come up frequently and have already been explained to the child. He knows the answer, and you do not need to defend your position to your child when he is fully aware of your reasons.
Falling back on the response “because I said so” does have some drawbacks to think about. As home educators we want our children to learn to think logically and develop critical thinking skills. Part of that process is learned through asking questions and consideration of the answers. The challenge for homeschooling adults is to determine the child’s developmental level and to encourage the child to ask genuine questions to increase his learning and expand his knowledge.
Another danger of telling a child “because I said so” is that it can result in rebellion, depending in part on the child’s personality and temperament. For some, any attempt to shut down the child’s questioning results in further attempts by the child to engage in verbal sparring or negotiation. Have you ever been caught in an exchange with a child who responds to everything you say with, “Why”? A child who feels he is being ignored may pull out all the stops in an effort to gain or regain attention.
On the other hand, there are children with personality types and temperaments who are less likely to resist or respond strongly when an adult stops engaging with them. This child may learn to be increasingly passive in accepting whatever comes his way rather than being actively engaged in interactions and learning. He may learn to be content just going with the flow without questioning where he is headed and why he is going there.
When a child asks the same question they have asked countless times already, I think it is fine to tell him that he already knows the answer and you will not keep answering that particular question for him. Try to discern the motive behind the child’s questions so you can respond accordingly. You may recognize that the child just wants your attention, or perhaps the child is truly interested in the topic but doesn’t have the language skills to ask other questions to solicit more information from you.
Answering a young child’s many questions takes a lot of patience and wisdom in knowing how to respond. Questioning can be a wonderful way to learn new things, or it could be an attempt to keep your attention on the inquisitive child. Next time you are tempted to respond with “Because I said so!” consider how that might contribute to passivity or a rebellion. Listen beyond the question to hear what is on your child’s heart. Truly, it takes discernment to know how to respond wisely to a child and his many questions.