A successful strategy to avoid the “Why?”

Parents often hate answering the question “why?” when their children suddenly become obsessed with that word around the age of 4 (when they’ve gained enough vocabulary to understand and to express themselves fairly well).  Parents usually find it annoying: children ask that question constantly–to even the littlest things–AND it lasts forever:

“Why is the game over when the Jenga tower is knocked down?”
“Because it’s the object of the game.”
“Why?”
“Because it says so on the box.”
“Why?”
“Because its hard to pull out pieces.”
“Why?”
“because…don’t you have something else to do?

Over the summer, I visited my cousin’s family where they have a 4-year-old son.  There I learned the magical wisdom of

how to avoid it:

“Why is the game over when the Jenga tower is knocked down?”
“Why do you think, Johnny?”
“Because when it is knocked over you can’t play anymore?”
“Yes, Johnny! That’s exactly right!”

The important difference here is to ask the question back.  Chances are, the child either already knows the answer (or at least knows something very close to the answer) or can figure it out.  In learning, it is important to clarify the answers that the child provides to his own question.  This can be done by asking bonus questions:

“Johnny, why do you think the Jenga tower would get knocked down?”
“Because its hard to pull out the pieces without it falling over?”
“Yes, Johnny! Why might it be hard?”
“Because when you pull one from this side, the other side gets tipped over?”
“That’s right! It gets tipped over because the tower is out of balance. See? Its uneven.”
“Why is it uneven?”
“Why do you think?
“There are less on this side than that side?
“That’s absolutely right! Great job, Johnny!”

Bonus questions = bonus points for parenthood: Now the child has some knowledge of basic mechanics.

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