Why your toddler always asks “Why?”

Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson explores the reasons behind your toddler's constant barrage of questions, and shares tips on how to cope with this stage of toddler development

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One of the joys of parenting is watching your toddler’s speech and language develop. A year ago, he could only cry or babble, yet now he uses a wide range of words, phrases and sentences. Then suddenly you find he starts that typical toddler habit of asking non-stop, rapid-fire questions and you long for those earlier days when you had peace and quiet at home!

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Research confirms that the peak age for those endless “who, where, what, when and why” questions is between 30 months to 36 months. That’s also the age when toddlers often repeat the same questions, over and over again. So if you’re going through it right now, rest assured you’re not alone.

Why your toddler asks “Why?”

So, why is your toddler so stuck on “Why”? It might seem like he’s doing it to test your patience, but there are a host of psychological reasons for your toddler asking questions at every turn. Of course, he’s curious and wants more information about the world around him. Questions help him increase his knowledge and they’re also a way of him keeping control, which he’ll enjoy. The more he gets that, the more he’ll keep asking “Why?”. Sometimes he’ll ask “Why?” to get, or keep, your attention, and you’ll find yourself re-enforcing that because you always reply.

His questions also help him think and plan ahead for his day, which you’re also a big part of, and they’re the easiest way for him to keep up contact with you, and therefore bond. You might find he tests you further, taking “Why?” to a new level when you’re out and about, such as asking “Why’s that lady fat?”. He’s doing it for the same reasons, and has no idea he’s being politically incorrect. Point out that of course he can ask you any question about other people that he wants, but he should only do it when you’re alone together.

Giving an answer to your toddler

At times, you might find your toddler’s questioning tiring, especially when he keeps repeating the same question over and over, again and again, even though you’re happy with your answer. It’s almost as if he’s trying to taunt you. Or maybe he’s bored, or simply doesn’t understand your answer, even though you thought it was clear.

Whatever the underlying reason for his repetitive inquiries, stay calm. Instead of getting annoyed with your toddler, simply stop answering, ignore his repeated questions, and distract him with a toy, game or other activity.

When answering your toddler’s questions, pitch your reply at a level suitable for his age. Don’t overload him with too much information or too much detail, especially if you think he isn’t particularly interested in the content of your reply and is asking for another psychological reason.

If your toddler asks questions solely to grab your attention, keep your answers accurate and informative, but short and precise. Make sure you also give him positive attention when he isn’t expecting it, for instance, cuddling him when he plays quietly. This reduces his need to ask you attention-seeking questions.

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Read more advice from child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson…

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