A boy and his father are out for a walk. The boy asks his father, “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” The father responds, “I don’t know.” A while later the boy asks, “Daddy, how do fish breathe under water?” The father responds, “I don’t know.” Later on, the boy asks, “Daddy, what makes fireflies glow?” The father responds, “I don’t know.” The boy hangs his head and asks, “Daddy, do you mind me asking you all these questions?” The father responds, “Of course not! If you don’t ask questions, how are you going to learn anything??!!”
That may be a silly joke, but it does relate to the unfortunate fact that little kids can be a fountain of questions sometimes. Many a mother or father has been driven nearly insane by a seemingly incessant series of “why” queries from their persistent preschooler. However, it is important to keep in mind that the child is not being intentionally irritating and needs to be taken seriously.
For one thing, young children are truly curious about almost everything. The whole world is new, exciting, and endlessly fascinating to them. They really want to know why things are the way they are, how things work, and what happens when and if. And as their first and most powerful teachers, parents have an obligation to nurture that curiosity and satisfy it to the best of their ability. Beyond that, young children crave interaction with the people whom they love. Therefore, a good part of the question asking may simply be a desire to keep the conversation going for as long as possible.
Of course, the situation can push even the most patient parents beyond their limit, and it can become somewhat embarrassing when even the most knowledgeable parents inevitably get stumped. So if that happens, let me give you a small piece of advice. Instead of sharply or sheepishly responding, “I don’t know,” try responding with, “Let’s find out!” Follow that with an introduction to using resources like the local library or the internet. This transforms the experience into something that is even more satisfying for your child and considerably less onerous for you. It also prepares your child for the future when you may not be so readily available and he will have to find answers himself.
Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.