Resources & Tips
parenting tips

Questions Frequently Asked by Parents
Would any of these apply to YOU??

My child loves to ask WHY -- do I always have to explain?

Don’t Be Sidetracked By “Whys

When Barbara became a parent, she swore she’d never utter the words “because I said so.” Her own parents had frequently responded to her questions that way, and she’d always resented it. But that was before she had an inquisitive child of her own. Now, as she races to get everyone out of the house in the morning, Barbara faces endless questions from four-year-old Natalie: “Why do I have to go to school? Why do you have to go work? Why can’t we stay home and play?

The first morning Natalie asked “why?” Barbara took the time to explain patiently -- even though they were running late. “I thought I could nip the problem in the bud by clearly pointing out the reasons to Natalie,” she recalls. “I told her about all the kids in my class who were waiting for me to come and be their teachers. I reminded her about what fun she had at preschool and how much her friends would miss her if she weren’t there. I told her we could spend lots of time together over the weekend.

“When I was finished with my long and convincing list, Natalie looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘But why, Mommy?”

“Now we go through this routine every morning,” Barbara concludes, “and Because I said so is looking better and better.”

Do Kids Really Need a Reason?

When kids repeatedly ask, “why?” they don’t always require a reason. Often, they just want to get you to change your mind. “Why?” is their way of expressing displeasure with a decision you’ve made. Or it can be a way to get your attention.

Parents, meanwhile, often believe that if they take the time to explain their reasons, their kids will more readily comply and they can avoid making their children unhappy. Not so! When you try to reason with your child about why he can’t have a cookie, stay up late, or ride his bike in the dark, your goal is to get him to see things your way -- to give up wanting what he wants. His goal is quite different -- to nudge you from a no to a yes.

Children don’t do this because they are naughty, obstinate, or deliberately indifferent to your explanations. Reasoning is an acquired skills, which requires a cognitive ability that young children don’t yet possess. Before age three or four, children react to situations based on their emotions and their physical comfort levels. Between the ages of four and six, they gain a limited understanding of the way the world works but still lack well-developed reasoning skills. They live in the moment. When your young child wants to stay up past her bedtime and you say no, she won’t be satisfied by your explanation that she’ll be tired in the morning. She is totally engaged in the here and now, and isn’t the least bit concerned with how she might feel the next day.
Trying to reason with a child who lacks the ability to be reasonable leads to frustration on both sides. Not only does the child remain unconvinced, but you may find that when your explanation doesn’t work, you become angrier than if you hadn’t offered any at all. The more time you invest, the greater your resentment: “Here I went to all this effort to explain, and she’s still not satisfied!”

Answer a Question with Another Question

When kids ask serious question that are truly a search for clarity, information, or understanding, they almost never start with “Why can’t I?” or “Why won’t you let me?” Serious questions do merit discussion or a thoughtful explanation. But most kids’ “why” questions are designed simply to engage you -- and rarely in a positive way. They enjoy trying to get you to change your mind. I call their talent for endless questioning and prodding “the sandpaper technique.” They ask and ask and ask until your resistance is worn away.

Any question that begins, “Why can’t I?” or “Why won’t you let me?” should send up a red flag -- especially if you’ve answered it before. It’s pointless to keep repeating the same explanation. Instead, turn the question around and put the onus on your child to answer it. One mom in my workshop has a child who comes up with another why, then another. So she turns it into a thinking game, saying, “I’ll come up with one reason, then you think of another.”

Turning the question around can be extremely effective, as another mother in my workshop discovered when she used it with her six-year-old son:

Tony: Why can’t I have a gerbil?
Mom: We’ve been through this before.
Tony: But why can’t I?
Mom: I’ll bet you know the answer to that. You tell me.
Tony: (reluctantly) Because we already have a cat and a rabbit and we don’t have any more room?
Mom: Right. Those are all good reasons.

This approach is a gentle way of reminding your child that you’ve already been around this track numerous times, and that you have faith in his ability to figure out the answer himself. It requires him -- the person asking the question -- to take the answer more seriously. This tactic lets you encourage your child in a positive way and puts him in the position of reinforcing your message. What’s more he ends up feeling good because he has come up with his own answers.

Many parents tell me they want to learn from the mistakes their own parents made and do it differently. While they accept the fact that children need rules and guidelines, they are determined to find a warmer, more child-friendly style of parenting than they experienced in the authoritarian households of their youth. In the process, they often discover ways to make no’s seem less abrupt and “I’m the boss” sound more like “I’m in charge.” And they learn the best lesson there is : You can be loving and still say no!

Nancy's book, "LOVING WITHOUT SPOILING." has 99 other tips for avoiding power struggles using positive discipline and much more.

More Solutions to Parents' FAQs can be found in Nancy's books and articles found below.

Antidotes to Spoiling Kids
No parent sets out to raise a spoiled child. Here are antidotes to spoiling kids . . . and not just over the holidays.

How to Know if your Child is Spoiled
Are you caught in these spoiling traps?
Find out the traits of a spoiled child and learn to show love without spoiling.

• Sibling Rivalry
Learn nine solutions for handling sibling rivalry.

Have Your Kids Take the Sibling Survey
This unique questionnaire for parents to give their children will help parents better understand sibling and family relationships and offer clues to how kids really feel about their brothers and sisters.

Positive Discipline
Positive discipline alternatives to yelling, nagging, bribing, threatening and punishing.

Avoid Spanking
Spare the rod: to spank or not to spank?


Eight Weapons in the War on Anger
Nancy offers parents & Educators effective skills to handle their anger without hurting or insulting kids.