Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at July 8, 2005 11:14 AM

I have a three-and-a-half year-old son.  All the parents reading this post now immediately understand the title.

Why Daddy?  Why?  Why?  Why?

After ever explanation…he fires it right back at you.  Why?  The subject doesn’t matter — here’s a brief list of topics from yesterday:  rocks, spiders, time, book titles, colors, weather, distance, pool chemicals, bathroom etiquette, money, and (my favorite) the rules of baseball.

Most of the time, I enjoy his cross-examinations.  Sometimes I’ll have a little fun with it and give him way too much information — “…because light exhibits properties of both a wave and a particle….”  My wife usually rolls her eyes when I do this.  I just wait for the inevitable next question — why?  “It’s one of the great mysteries of quantum mechanics, son.”


I admit that it can get frustrating, though.  He’ll rip off a string of why’s that seems to have no end.  Just when you think you’ve taken his line of questioning down as far as it can go, he’ll pause and think, pause some more, and then fire another one at you.


I fight the urge to give the response you hear from so many parents — “because I said so.”  Sometimes it can’t be helped, but every time I do it, I immediately wish I hadn’t.  I don’t want to do anything to disrupt his natural curiosity about the world.

I was inspired to write this post last night when I overheard another adult talking about her little inquisitor.  “I can’t wait until she’s out of this phase,” she said to her friend after her daughter asked a single ‘why.’

A single why?  How hard is that?

If it is a phase, I hope to extend it as long as possible.  But my ultimate goal is to make sure that my son never stops asking that simple question.  And I hope to do the same with his 6–month old brother when the time is right.  I want to raise them to be rethinkers, no matter the field they choose.

Adults who continually ask why — the rethinkers of our world — have produced some incredible answers.  Q:  Why do you have to use an open surgery technique for a certain treatment?  A:  Turns out you don’t.  Q:  Why did the island of Krakatoa all but disappear on August 27, 1883?  A:  Plate tectonics (both of these why’s led to the creation of entire new fields of study, by the way).

Play the game.  Have fun with it.  Resist the “because I said so” answer as best you can (I don’t think it can be completely avoided…).  Teach.  Peel the onion.  Help them explore (and do some exploring yourself).

You’ll help mold another rethinker if you do.  And that’s good for all of us.

The mother never answered her daughter’s single why, by the way.  In disgust, I rolled my eyes and muttered to my wife “she never answered the question.”

My son overheard and asked, “Why?”

I have no friggin’ clue.


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Liquidcoooled Says:

July 10, 2005 04:56 AM

My 2nd son is just hitting this stage and I am always pleased to stop the world and get down at his level to answer him until he's happy (or distracted with something else).
I am glad I am not the only one :)

I better get on and read the rest of your blog now.

Deepesh Shah Says:

August 2, 2005 05:14 AM

We are also going through the same phase my son just completed 3 years and is full of Why's

some of his Why's

Why do we have to behave?
Why do we need air?
Why do we have to eat?
Why do you have to work?

and the list goes on and on..

but love it..

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