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Mr. Dad: Child’s questions deserve answers

Mon., March 21, 2011

Dear Mr. Dad: For the past few months my son, who is almost 4, has been going through the “why” phase – constantly asking questions like, “Why is sky blue?” and “Why can’t dogs sing?”

Most of the time I don’t know what to tell him or how to make him stop. Any advice?

A: I’m sure just about every parent who’s reading this is nodding his or her head. This phenomenon is so common that you could safely add it to the short list of life’s guarantees.

My first suggestion is to stop trying to make your son ask fewer questions. Judging from his age and the questions you quoted, your son doesn’t seem exceptionally or unusually inquisitive.

Starting at about 3, children really start to focus on the world around them and try to explore every little bit of it.

Plus, he’s now much more able to actually understand what’s going on. He’s fascinated by how things work and can’t get enough of cause and effect. At the same time, his language skills are blossoming.

Combine that insatiable curiosity with an exploding vocabulary, and you’ve got a never-ending and sometimes annoying stream of questions.

But what your son doesn’t have right now is the capacity to tell the difference between questions that are reasonable and those that aren’t. So when the dog barks instead of singing, your son wants to know why. So how should you handle all these questions? To start with, don’t ignore them.

The good news is that most questions 4-year-olds ask aren’t exactly rocket science. Give the best, most complete and age appropriate answer you can.

If, for example, your son asks where he came from, “Chicago” could be a better answer than a lengthy explanation of the birds and bees.

If you don’t know an answer, it’s perfectly fine to say so. But don’t just leave it at that.

Suggest some ways that you and he could discover the answer together. Go to the library and check out some books that might provide the information you need. When you listen carefully to your child’s questions and you patiently answer them (or help him find the answers), you’re doing two very important things.

First, you’re nurturing his sense of curiosity, which is a critical step in the learning process. Science, literature and just about everything else couldn’t exist if people hadn’t been curious enough to ask, “Gee, I wonder what would happen if I …”

Second, you’re laying the foundation for good and open communication between the two of you. And, as he gets older, knowing that you take his questions seriously will be proof that he can turn to you with any problems.

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