‘Daddy can you play with me?’

‘Not now caca. Daddy is working.’

‘Why?’ (Uh-oh)

‘Because Daddy has some emails to read so that I can reply to them.’

‘Why?’ (Mentally cursing, S$@t…s#$t…s@0t. Ok, now take a deep breath. Think of a reason that will satisfy her)

‘Some people email Daddy for advice because they are having some trouble and Daddy can help them. So I write an email to explain what to do. Then people follow what is in my email and they can get out of the trouble they are in.’ (mental high five, slam dunk, boo-yah!)

My little girl looks at me with starry eyes, a 2s period of silence is observed. Then with a great big smile, she says…

‘Yes but why daddy?’

(Mission failed)

Like me you probably have an inquisitive toddler that loves asking questions. And as such are probably inundated with the infamous and unrelenting series of ‘why’ questions.

My wife hates these.

And I use the word hate, lightly.

I used to dread getting the why question because I know it was an endless stream. We are about to go out, my daughter takes her shoes out of the rack. I ask her to put it on and it starts, ‘why?’

‘Because we are going out.’

‘Why?’

‘Because if you go out bare feet you might step on something sharp and it will hurt.’

‘Why?’

‘Because there are sharp things around outside the house.’

‘Why?’

‘Because…just because. Now stop asking questions and put on your shoes!’

‘Why?’

And this seems to happen at the most inopportune times. During dinner, when you are trying to relax, bath time, when they go and take a dump but especially during bed time.

‘It’s time to sleep caca.’

‘Why?’

I used to get so frustrated and at times even mad because of these questions.

I was conflicted because I wanted to teach her, to help her understand and learn about the world around her yet the whys never seem to be satisfied.

It wasn’t until I read widely did I understand the reason for the whys.

You probably know this on an instinctive level but when I tell you, it is going to sound bleedingly obvious.

The reason why your child asks why is because they want to connect with you.

When I first discovered this, it was a revelation.

My child just wants to connect with me. Her primary motivation isn’t seeking knowledge. She is looking to connect, to feel loved.

Armed with this knowledge I could finally shed the guilt of not answering the question and instead give her exactly what she wants.

So, what does the serial why questioning end up like today in the Lo household?

‘Daddy, why are you working?’

I stop what I am doing, get down to her level and ask in return, ‘Would you like to spend time with Daddy?’

90% of the time I get, ‘Yes’.

I give her a big hug and whisper in her ear, ‘Would you like to play with me here or on the mattress?’

‘On the mattress!’

‘You go on first, I will be right there.’

No serial whys. No long winded non sensicle explanations. No exasperated daddy. Happy toddler.

Let me break it down for you.

  • You get a why question, ascertain if there is a reason behind it or are they truly wanting to know
  • If you can’t tell assume that it is a cry for attention (don’t worry, if you are wrong they will keep asking)
  • Decide to connect and communicate that you want to connect. 93% or more of communication is how you say what you are saying. If you are doing something else, stop. Face your child, get down to their eye level. Bring them in close
  • I love this because when you whisper, it changes the dynamic of the interaction immediately. And it is hard to be annoyed or come across as annoyed when you whisper
  • Redirect by asking them a clarifying question. Since I assume they want my attention, all I need to do is confirm it by a simple , ‘Did you want to talk/play/hug/kiss etc?’
  • Get a yes. If you are on the wrong track you will get a no, so explore what reason your child has for wanting your attention. Maybe he/she wants you to go to the toilet, kitchen, cuddle her bear. There are literally a gazillion reasons (many which make no adult sense) as to why they want your attention.
  • Redirect by asking a question. This is a masterful stroke of genius (if I do say so myself). You ask a question which you have predetermined the outcome. In the example above, I asked, ‘Would you like to play with me here or on the mattress?’ This is called a win-win. My minimum acceptable outcome is to play with her, so instead of being open ended like ‘Where would you like to play?’ (which might be in the park, outside the house, McDonalds!) I have predetermined the location. She gets to pick, we are both happy.
  • Rinse and repeat.

When you first start using this technique you are going to mess up. Particularly the win-win question. That is ok, I experimented with it multiple ways before getting it to work consistently.

The most important step is step 3, Connect. This trumps anything else. The rest is just icing on the cake and allows you the freedom to decide on the outcome beforehand.

Have fun playing with it and shoot me an email with your successes!

HB

HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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