Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Whys of "Why"

Ever read in child-rearing books that such-and-such a kid is supposed to hit this-or-that milestone by such-and-such age? And then, did you ever have the experience of your kid (or plural, kids) not hitting those milestones?

(Tonya just piped up, "Neither of my brothers ever crawled!" Yes, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.)

Well, when all the books say he should be doing this by this age, and your kid doesn't, it can make you scratch your head and wonder if there's something odd about your kid. If none of your kids hit the milestone, it makes you scratch your head and wonder if there's something odd about you.

(Or, it makes you wonder about your spouse. But that's another topic, for another blogger entirely.)

Well, we in the Power household have identified one such phenomenon in our children: They almost never ask why.

The more I think about this, the more I'm confounded by it. Kids are supposed to ask why! Just about every kid who's ever existed asks why. They're supposed to ask you why the sky is blue, why the grass has the same name as Daddy (this supposedly happens when your name is Timothy), why cats lick themselves, why flour doesn't come from flowers ("Then why are they named the same?"), why do I have to go to bed, why did my sister get more than me, why, why, why until the parent calls out in frustration, "Because I said so! That's just the way it is! Eat your beets!"

Mine don't. Why?

I've considered a few theories, but I'm not sure what's up. One theory is that kids ages five and below don't go for abstract logic, and "Why" questions are all about abstract logic, cause-and-effect, and all that. According to the "Trivium" model that forms the basis of Classical Education, kids don't really get into that sort of thing until they approach age ten or so. But if we go too far in that direction, we have to conclude that my kids are the normal ones, and everyone else's kids are weird. While I like to muse on the ramifications of this point, it begs the next question: why are everyone else's kids so weird?

Ok, next theory: My kids--the Pillowfight Fairy in particular--have very strong tendencies to introversion. It's not so much that they're shy--the Fairy was introducing herself tonight to every adult and teen she met at church by loudly and happily declaring, "I'm Wilbur!*"--but rather that what goes on in their own minds is so much more interesting to them than what goes on in the world around them. They come by it honestly, of course--both Mommy and Daddy are like that. But it could be that they are so introverted that they simply don't care about why the sky is blue or why they have to eat their beets. In their own private world, the sky is pink and no one ever has to eat beets, and that's good enough for them.

(Note: I'm using beets as a rhetorical device, which is about all they're good for. I loathe them, and would never inflict them on a child. When I say beets, think any number of other perfectly good foods that they loathe with a loathing like my beet-loathing).

Well, my wife has offered a third theory: Kids ask why because they're trying to get attention from their parents. They want their parents to spend time talking to them, and they quickly learn that asking why is a really good way of provoking a response. Tonya, on the other hand,
has trained herself (contrary to her normally reserved nature) to talk about everything with her children. "Ok, now I'm going to wash this dish. See all this gunk? That's what's left over from lunch, and we have to wash it off before we use the plate again, or we'll get gunk on the new food." "Little boy, I'm going to take the diaper off now, and put a new one on. Oh, heavens, look at this! I'm glad I decided to check you." "That's a lovely horse you've drawn. Are you going to cut it out and put it up?" And so on, and so on. She jokes that she's gotten in the habit of talking, talking, constantly talking, to the point where the girls just want her to shut up. Ergo, they see no need to ask the "why" question.

I'm curious to find out what other people's experiences are. How much do your kids ask, "why?" What ages did they start? What kinds of questions do they ask?

I'm curious to know, because I'm dying to have the Pillowfight Fairy start asking me why questions, so I can answer her (a la Calvin's Dad in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) that yes, the world used to be in black and white, but everything turned to color starting sometime in the 1940's....

*This is because she's really gotten into the story of Charlotte's Web lately. Could be worse: for a few days there, she was Templeton.


Sarah said...

Ha! I've had that same question with my 3 kids, who never went through a "why" stage, although when they got more around age 5-6, they each had their own version: "What would happen if..." was/is very big around here.But the only one who ever asks "why" is our teenager!

timeless said...

I don't think my one-and-only did much "why"-asking. I guess there are the "why" kids and then there are the kids who know all the answers! If yours are the latter, you may be surprised later in life when the kids FONDLY remember their "take" on a certain happenstance...and how OFF THE WALL it was at that time!

Maybe your kids don't ask "why" because they are given all the answers before they can get a chance to ask something. Are there some kinds of educational models that tend to discourage the "why-asking"? I really don't know...
but I've heard that once the "whys" begin, they never stop.
Some kids may be more curious about things. I LIKE the version Sarah gives..."What would happen if..."That shows an analytical mind, maybe.
My car just came in with a meow that says, "WHY aren't you in bed yet? I keep waiting and waiting's lonely in there! So....Good Night, sweet parenteral units...

timeless said...

...My CAR didn't come in CAT came in meowing...

Timothy Power said...

Hm. I'm imagining a car sneaking into your bedroom, then lighting up and giving a loud HONNNNNK!!!

I've been around kids too long.


Crimson Wife said...

For some kids asking "why?" might be a ploy for attention but for others I think it's truly just personality. My oldest started asking "why?" very early on- around age 2 1/2 IIRC. She's insatiably curious and wants to know more about everything it seems.

I've learned to turn the question around and ask her what she thinks the answer is. Lots of times she's got a theory of her own and I suspect the "why?" is her looking for confirmation or rejection of that idea. I try to use questions to help her figure out the correct answer without my directly telling her it.

Anonymous said...

Great Question. I've wondered the opposite...will he ever stop asking why? I'm exhausted! My oldest (10 yo) started asking come...what if's in the delivery room and it has not stopped. Answers just lead to more questions. Sometimes I think your wife is right and he just wants to talk but most of the time he's truly seeking to understand. Mostly we have fabulous conversations about very grown up concepts. However, my other son (7yo) is the opposite. He rarely asks but just listens in to our converations. He is my daydreamer. Half of the time I feel that his mind occupies a spot next to Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood. The imagined world is far more interesting to him. He clings tightly to the age of magical innocence.
Basically, I think your wife may be on to something. It may have less to do with curiousity then we think. I once heard a great parenting tip. If you want to know how your child best receives love - his/her love language just ask them this two part question.

Honey, do you know that I love you? (hopefully, they answered yes)
Then, honey, HOW do you know that I love you?

My oldest said..because you tell me and talk to me all the time. My youngest said...because we cuddle alot. Try it and listen to what they have to tell you. I think that will be your answer.

Anna said...

I think your wife is very wise. ;)
My kids don't ask "why" much, either. I've been talking non-stop since the oldest was born in 2002.