The Answer to “Why Mommy?”
Years ago had a job counseling teenage mothers who were considering placing their babies for adoption. I will never forget one girl’s statement wishing her parents had told her why sex at her young age wasn’t a good idea, instead of only telling her not to do it. “Now," she said, "I know lots of reasons why what I was doing was a mistake. Would it have been so hard for them to have told me why?”
Like diapers and potty training, the constant why questions of a toddler will pass. However, your child’s need to have someone to talk to about their questions will not. Setting yourself up now as that person who will listen and explore answers with them will help you to inspire your children to make good decisions later.
Toddlers want to to understand how their world works so they ask lots of questions. As children grow older, they still want to know why but the questions they have are about larger issues of life choices and behaviors. Decide ahead of time how you want to respond to spontaneous questions. Can you drop everything and answer an important question or reply by asking your own questions to see what they are thinking? How will you respond when you simply don’t have time to give more than a quick, simple reply?
It helps to have a back-up time that you have set aside to allow for deeper conversations with your child. This could be at meal time, at bedtime, while driving in the car, or during an Exercising Values character workout (you can learn more about those here).
One of the foundations of parenthood is teaching good character to our children. And when you teach character you are teaching the underlaying "why" behind many behaviors. Be prepared to have the qualities themselves challenged and explored. For example, you may be asked why is it important to be punctual, thrifty, or kind. Thinking about these questions ahead of time will help you clarify just what you want your child to know and do.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel is a neuroscientist who innovated study methods that have unlocked a lot of knowledge about how the brain works and debunked a lot of myths. When she discovered that 60% of college-educated people in Rio de Janeiro still believed the fallacy that we only use 10% of our brains, she went on a quest to correct other misinformation on how the brain works. In 2009, she published the answer to how many cells the human brain has and she has since studied the brains of eighty species.
Picture Suzana as a toddler asking her parents for the umpteenth time “Why does my friend have freckles?”. "Why is the sky blue?" "Why don’t dogs have kittens?" Most parents alternate from being amused and being annoyed by questions like that. It’s funny to be asked why toes aren’t as long as fingers and less funny to be asked twenty times why they can’t eat candy for breakfast. How do you react to the various why questions from your child?
Suzana's memory is that her parents encouraged the question. As she grew older, her parents' admonition to question even expert opinions and to ask “how do you know that?” became the impetus for her discoveries in neuroscience. It’s probably easy to see that a positive response to why questions helps your child grow intellectually and do well in school. It’s also important in their growth towards excellent behavior and good character.
So that’s why we find the patience we need when they ask why no matter how importune the moment may be. We are their guides and for a short time, we seem to have all the answers. While we don't always have the answers our patience will help our children find their own answers and to rely on the good character you taught them when making important decisions for years to come.
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